Sharing Pre-Plan Data to Improve Responses

When an incident call comes in, what fire department doesn't want to respond as quickly as possible? Response, however, involves not just the speed with which firefighters must reach the scene, but executing tactics to handle the incident once on-scene. National Fire Protection Association...


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When an incident call comes in, what fire department doesn't want to respond as quickly as possible? Response, however, involves not just the speed with which firefighters must reach the scene, but executing tactics to handle the incident once on-scene.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards indicate that it should take approximately six minutes from the time of notification of an incident by 911 dispatchers to the time that crews actually arrive on the scene. This would be ideal, of course, but it's not always achievable.

There is no standard for how long it should take to reach the cause or source of an incident and deal with it. A key element is how detailed the pre-incident plan is for the structure involved. The better the pre-plan, the more effective the response, right?

Fire agencies increasingly are finding that by sharing pre-plans with their 911 dispatch center, whether in-house or county based, this can significantly boost the quality of a fire crew's response and make a huge difference in minimizing damage at the scene.

To foster this kind of interactivity between a fire agency and 911 center requires that the pre-incident plans are, in an ideal situation, electronically accessible. Automating the pre-incident planning process means that fire and 911 can share pre-incident plans for all structures, and update them with the most current details on each building.

The payback of having accurate preplan information is dramatic time savings, richer details on structures, better firefighting strategies, and—at the heart of it all—heightened protection for responders and citizens.

Automated Pre-Planning

The Holland, MI, Fire Department decided to automate its pre-incident planning in late 2007. It uses The CAD Zone Inc.'s (www.cadzone.com) First Look Pro, Version 4 (FLP V.4), a software program designed for organizing and locating pre-incident plan diagrams of buildings, structures, maps and information. With it, the department shares pre-plans electronically with a countywide 911 dispatch agency since FLP can be used on multiple computers across a network.

Holland's fire apparatus have mobile data computers (MDCs) on which is loaded FLP V.4. Fire Marshal Todd Szakacs spearheaded the project to get the dispatch agency networked to all of the fire department's pre-plans, working with his information technology department. The dispatch center installed the Aegis/MSP Computer-Aided Dispatch software system from New World Systems to send messages to the MDCs on the apparatus with information about the call, such as where to go and incident details. FLP V.4 interprets the same message and finds the pre-plan for that building so it is instantly displayed when the firefighters board the apparatus.

In addition, the fire department chose to have First Look Pro Map (available separately from The CAD Zone) installed. With First Look Pro Map, a fire call is located automatically on the map as soon as it is routed from dispatch. The CAD Zone includes a GPS receiver in First Look Pro Map so an apparatus crew can see the vehicle's progress toward the incident updated in real time.

"The officer in charge of the shift (armed with a pre-plan on a mobile terminal) can actually deploy his strategy and tactics while he's enroute to the scene," Szakacs said. "He can stage firefighters while enroute where he wants them prior to arriving on the scene. And he can do hazardous materials inventory, emergency contacts, lockbox locations and FDC locations."

The biggest advantage of FLP V.4 to the Holland Fire Department's Information Technology unit is that it automatically takes the call from dispatch and pulls up the main pre-plan page plus the map without requiring input from fire department personnel. Another advantage is that FLP V.4 lets the department add different pieces of information to the map as a fire engine gets closer to the call scene.

"The data is updated wirelessly to the vehicle from a main location to the trucks and the people can continue to build up the pre-plans from either station," Szakacs said.

Another software offering, MobileRescue, from BIO-key International (www.bio-key.com), is a wireless mobile data solution that claims to "bridge the public safety interoperability and information sharing gap for first responders." However, the software does not appear to include pre-incident plan sharing as part of its capabilities. MobileRescue's features include silent, secure messaging (CAD-to-user/user-to-CAD communication); audible alarm for incoming messages; operations center tracking of responder vehicle location through automated vehicle location; real-time access to video feeds and other site information.

Interactivity Success

Urbandale, IA-based FIREHOUSE Software (www.firehousesoftware.com and (no relation to Firehouse® Magazine) offers a module called FH Mobile Preplans. As the name suggests, this module can be installed on any Windows-equipped laptop or mobile computer. Similar to The CAD Zone's Fire Zone pre-plan diagramming and First Look Pro pre-plan organizing software programs, the FH Preplans software can easily display building occupancy information en route to an incident scene. The software also has an audible play feature whereby a synthesized voice will read occupancy information when a building pre-plan is opened for review.

The FH Preplans software is able to display any of the Fire Zone pre-plans that hundreds of fire departments nationwide create. Therefore, when a fire or incident call is received by the 911 dispatch center, the CAD program queries the data from the Firehouse Software database and then electronically prompts it to be displayed on the CAD system and on MDCs in fire engines simultaneously. In addition, address and location information passed from CAD to the FIREHOUSE Mobile Preplans software will give direct access to valuable pre-plan information, a feature called "FH Live Link."

The Keizer, OR, Fire District installed FH Preplans in 2005 and uses it to bring up pre-fire plans created with The CAD Zone's Fire Zone on MDCs on six fire units. Recently created or updated pre-plans are captured by the Firehouse Mobile Preplan Viewer and displayed on the MDCs.

Like other fire departments, the City of Keizer's 911 dispatch center is set up to send a building address to the fire department's MDCs. Since the Fire Zone-generated pre-plans are already on the MDCs, any of them will come up on the MDCs once the corresponding address is keyed in by a firefighter after he has boarded the fire engine. Additionally, Deputy Fire Marshal Rod Conway said, "I can see dispatchers having those same (pre-fire plan) drawings synchronized at their dispatch center where they could also pull them up. And maybe they could be looking at the drawing while the units are enroute." With this kind of configuration, Conway added, "A dispatcher can note that maybe there's a hazard in a certain part of the building, or the access to the warehouse is on the back side of the structure before firefighters had time to view the pre-plan while en route to the scene."

Like Conway, Janice White, president of The CAD Zone, sees clear advantages to bridging 911 and fire departments via shared building pre-plans. White explains that a fire department's First Look Pro data (if this is the pre-plan organizing software being used) must be generated by the CAD software.

"That ensures that all the addresses match exactly," White said, "so First Look Pro can find the correct one when a call comes in. First Look Pro has a utility to help the fire department import the addresses from the dispatch software. Once the database is set up in First Look Pro, then firefighters can go in and add all their pre-plan information, diagrams, photos, and any other important pre-plan items."

Gathering Data

As it is now evident, having a reliable software program to help capture and display pre-plan information on a mobile computer is essential. Only a few software programs are available for this important task. One of these is Inspector Tools from RLS Data (www.rlsdata.com). As its name implies, Inspector Tools is designed to let fire departments automate building inspection data and permit management, eliminating forever the need for handwritten reports, but also making sure the same, detailed data is captured for every building inspected. Thus, firefighters can build more complete pre-plans. The software can be deployed on any mobile tools such as Pocket PCs, tablet PCs, laptops, mobile data terminals, wired or wireless. In addition, RLS Data offers The CAD Zone's First Look Pro pre-planning software with Inspector Tools for a modest additional cost.

For Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue in Silverdale, WA, the inclusion of a GPS receiver in its pre-incident planning software has proven to be indispensable when responding to calls. This is particularly true when Central Kitsap apparatus are dispatched to a residential address in the area's largely rural community.

"There's a large percentage of these with no address listed at the end of the driveway," Inspector II Roger Nordlander said, adding that the ability to locate these addresses based on GPS data embedded in First Look Pro Map (included as part of The CAD Zone's First Look Pro software) has saved valuable time and boosted response efforts.

In some instances, Nordlander explained, the GPS feature has enabled firefighter medics to arrive on-scene 10–15 minutes faster rather than driving up and down driveways or asking for further directions. This decrease in dispatch to arrival time has been critical in advanced life support (ALS) responses. In small fires or nighttime calls, it has been invaluable, the inspector added.

"It (the mapping and GPS capabilities) means increased efficiency, improved safety and a faster dispatch to crews on-scene to deal with and mitigate a condition," Nordlander said.

BOB GALVIN is a Portland, OR-based freelance writer specializing in writing about topics related to pre-incident planning software and technology designed for use by fire departments.

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