Computerizing the Fire Service: How Computers Are Transforming Day-to-Day Functions

Charles Werner provides an overview of the significant ways that computers are transforming the fire service in management, training, preparedness and response; plus the latest "Hot Spots on the Web."


Thirty years ago, personal computers were nonexistent in the fire service. Today, that scenario is very different as the use of computers is the norm as a result of lower costs, microprocessors, smaller sizes, grant funding and the Internet. According to Wikipedia, over a billion personal...


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Thirty years ago, personal computers were nonexistent in the fire service. Today, that scenario is very different as the use of computers is the norm as a result of lower costs, microprocessors, smaller sizes, grant funding and the Internet.

According to Wikipedia, over a billion personal computers are in use worldwide and the projected trend will be that another billion will be in use by 2014. Even with these impressive numbers, it should be noted that as important as computers are, many fire departments across the country do not have computers and still consider them a luxury. This article will provide a high-level overview of the significant ways that computers are transforming the fire service in management, training, preparedness and response.

â?¢ Management/organization â?? In the area of management, computers are an essential tool for so many purposes. Aside from the general organizational management applications (such as word processing, database management, financial spreadsheets, presentations and website management), a must do is to implement a fire and EMS records management system (RMS) that meets the requirements of the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), especially since NFIRS reporting is a requirement to be eligible for many federal grants. These statistics are invaluable when it comes to understanding your locality's fire problem as well as validation of the worth that each fire department provides to its community through its fire suppression, EMS, fire prevention, fire safety education and training activities. A comprehensive fire RMS software package is also necessary to effectively meet the documentation requirements for an Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating review and International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) certification.

For EMS, the need is similar to capture patient reporting, incident trending and ambulance billing information. It is a recommendation that this software meet National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National EMS Information System (NEMSIS) requirements.

Bar coding is another tool that adds the ability to manage and inventory a department's equipment. This type of technology is also being used for fireground accountability.

â?¢ Training/education â?? There have been so many technological advances in training that it is dramatically changing how and when fire personnel can train. Training software/applications simulate everything from emergency incidents to vehicle-driving scenarios, and provide interactive training (online and offline), certification training/testing, promotional preparation and much more.

The National Fire Academy (NFA) now offers many online courses accessible through the Internet (www.nfaonline.dhs.gov) in the area of command and control, terrorism, etc. DVD case studies are also available free from the NFA. This becomes especially important as training can be conducted and documented via the computer in the fire station while volunteering or working (or from a firefighter's home) when convenient.

In higher education, many colleges and universities now offer online public safety and public administration degrees. This makes it possible for firefighters to utilize their personal computers to achieve a two- or four-year degree from work or home.

â?¢ Planning/preparedness â?? In preparedness/planning, computers provide value through the software applications that enable the ability to visualize and analyze the local environment prior to, during and following an emergency event.

Geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. In its simplest form, GIS provides maps such as flood plains, risk zones and coverage areas, to name a few. In its most advantageous form, it provides a relative link to time, geospatial location and resources. GIS can generate a static and/or dynamic (real-time or near-real-time) representation depending on the type of link to data. This also offers the ability to perform modeling simulations to determine potential impacts of areas based on certain conditions such as weather.

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