Your Apparatus Has a Voice — Are You Listening?

Important to modern transport and delivery systems are the use of GPS fleet tracking, telematics and mobile resource management programs. Until now, fire departments have yet to fully leverage these technologies into their apparatus. The systems employed in transport vehicle fleets largely focus on logistics, specifically a vehicle's location and route, two items that comprise only a fraction of the fire apparatus' utility.

Trying to mold traditional fleet methods directly to the fire service can be likened to the square-peg/round-hole dilemma — while you may find a fit, there will remain gaps to fill.

FirePrograms Software of Beverly Hills, FL, recently announced a new hardware product that will bridge the gap between a department's records management software (RMS) package and apparatus fleet. The Mobile Apparatus Management module (MAM) enables the apparatus to connect with FirePrograms records management software as it returns into the station through a wireless internet connection. Run logs, maintenance and inventory data are automatically synchronized with the records management requirements.

Rolling Business Unit

For the fire service, the benefit-to-cost ratio of traditional fleet management systems is diminished by two main factors. The first is that the typical fleet of fire apparatus for a given department is small. Second, the geographical and logistical scope of the apparatus is confined to a more localized region.

"Generally speaking, we have a better than reasonable idea of how many of our trucks are on the road, and where they are located," said Chief Tim Franz of the Oshkosh, WI, Fire Department. "The response mode of the vehicle is only the beginning. The requirement of the apparatus becomes more complex once we arrive at the scene. We need a more integrated approach that addresses the apparatus status, usage and capabilities while operating at the scene."

Viewed as a whole, the fire apparatus may be likened to a mobile business facility. It transports skilled personnel with a defined management structure. It houses inventory and an inventory management system, as well as a self-contained power plant to operate an array of equipment and machinery.

"The fire apparatus, whether at the station, in transit or at the scene is never off the job," says Chris Magiera, vice president of sales for FirePrograms Software. "With the Mobile Apparatus Management product, we are enabling certain data from the records management pool to travel through the entire response process; from the station, through transport, and to the scene. Similarly, data from the response process can be gathered and ported back into the department's RMS database."

Field Asset Management

Field asset management solutions incorporate many technologies, and typically employ machine-to-machine (M2M) applications. Machine-to-machine applications include hardware that gathers information from a machine, or other asset, and provides that information into a back-end office system or another field asset management system. The information in the M2M applications can be delivered through a wide array of available connectivity channels, including wireless broadband, Internet connection, wireless networks and even a plain old telephone connection.

Most fire departments currently use a records management software package to manage the business side of their operations. Records management systems today provide many features beyond National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) reports, including personnel data and scheduling, vehicle maintenance data and records, apparatus inventory and equipment lists. On the front end of records management, diligence in maintaining these records does result in extensive and valuable data that can provide useful statistical data through queries and reports.

One key to unlocking the power of the database is to remove data from its silo and port the information to the scene through the vehicle. With machine-to-machine communication, the fire apparatus is now capable of pulling the power of the RMS database into practical usage at the fire scene.

Location, Location, Location

While the apparatus waits in the station, the truck systems, equipment and inventory are of primary concern. The apparatus' many subsystems must be in a constant state of readiness. The Mobile Apparatus Management module can monitor the basic vehicle systems and be configured to generate e-mail notifications should any of the subsystems deviate from user-configured values or levels. The device connects to the chassis' J1939 link to monitor engine parameters and other drive-train component data and an additional link to connect with proprietary systems that may also be on the vehicle.

Critical items such as logged engine codes, as well as scheduled maintenance items based on mileage or component hours are also reported and managed within the familiar FirePrograms Records Management environment or through an independent web browser application. Additionally, multiple levels of apparatus dashboards can be viewed through common web browsers, keeping the apparatus status available at any time.

During transport, or response mode, the apparatus plays a critical role in safety to the firefighters. Each revision cycle of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus includes improved safety measures that must be built into the apparatus. The past cycle (2009) was no different, as it incorporated the requirement for monitoring and recording vehicle speed, seat occupancy, brake application and warning light status. Working in conjunction with those systems and requirements, the Mobile Apparatus Management module expands further to include a run log based both on event- and time-triggered data. On return to the station, data entry is minimized by the automatic synchronization of the run log data into the records management database. Ultimately, this provides a simple method to ensure that the apparatus' performance and statistical data remain current.

It is at the scene where the power of the RMS database combined with field asset management techniques may be best leveraged. In addition to maintaining a continuous record of apparatus scene operations, the module provides information to enhance scene management.

"An incident commander can have visibility to apparatus status and other pertinent information by way of the Mobile Apparatus Management module," said Magiera. "Having a viewport into the apparatus at the scene has obvious merits."

Recent advances in automated remote data collection technology are making it not only possible, but also practical to integrate M2M solutions and tools into the fire apparatus. Maintaining records and performance data on field assets is becoming increasingly important. Getting the most useful service life from the apparatus, and the major equipment it transports, can be optimized by an increased understanding on how those assets are used.

Employing field asset management techniques into a fire apparatus fleet will benefit real-time firefighter operations at the scene and also now provide improved real-time run log and maintenance data to the back-office operations of the department. Improved knowledge of a department's field assets gathered through the use of M2M will result in increased firefighter safety and, ultimately, enhanced service to the public.

BRAD BUSCH has been supporting the fire service through product development for over 20 years. He is experienced in apparatus networks and controls, and has served in several senior product development roles within the industry and is currently vice president of technology for FirePrograms of Beverly Hills, FL. Busch holds a degree in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Florida.