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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Situational awareness applications are designed to share and access information between local government, public safety and their respective emergency operations centers (EOCs). These applications can be interactive through an intranet or Internet application and are transforming the way information is being distributed between the various operational stakeholders.

Information/Intelligence Sharing applications share specific information and/or intelligence between public safety and the various levels of government. This also includes manual and/or automated emergency text/data messaging that can send information to a plethora of devices.

Building pre-fire plan applications capture important building information such as floor plans, attributes, occupancy, suppression features and storage within. This is incredibly useful from a fire suppression perspective and it is noteworthy from the aspect of the ISO rating process.

Mobile fire prevention/building inspection applications provide the ability to perform inspections, reference online fire prevention/building codes while in the field and instantaneously capture inspection data thereby eliminating the duplicative process of data entry upon return to the fire station.

â?¢ Emergency response â?? Computer hardware, software and wireless connectivity are transforming the ability and effectiveness of public safety and emergency management to respond to and manage emergency incidents and natural or manmade disasters.

Incident Command System (ICS) applications automate and create a permanent documentation of incident command operations, resource allocation and personnel assignments; they may work independently or connected through a wireless network.

National Incident Management System (NIMS) applications now provide an effective way to enter information that compiles incident/event data and distributes it accordingly to the appropriate NIMS forms and then generate the necessary Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports following a major event to identify staffing costs and reimbursements records.

Firefighter accountability systems leverage the wireless personal alerting safety system (PASS) devices that link to the incident commander. Similar to the standard non-wireless PASS, the distress signal can be manually activated using the alarm button or automatically activated if the firefighter is injured and ceases movement. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) monitoring systems are now linking the personal SCBA to the incident commander as to the amount of air remaining, if the SCBA is in range and alarming capabilities.

Vehicle response tracking/routing applications often known as automatic vehicle location (AVL) applications identify where a unit is located geospatially through the use of the geospatial positioning system (GPS), receive automated incident location information and provide the most effective response route on the computer screen combined with audio directions. These programs can also provide a date/time-stamped tracking of the unit during its travels. Personnel/patient/resource tracking is being achieved through the use of a computer application that interacts with wireless radio frequency identification (RFID) or through manual bar-coding technology.

There are numerous communications applications where computers are used to compliment operations. Some communications gateways utilize computers to establish interoperable communications via Internet Protocol (IP), which may be used in a tactical field operation and/or permanent connection between permanent disparate public safety radio systems.

Hazardous materials detection/monitoring systems enable monitoring of environment, rapid detection, analysis and identification of hazardous substances. These programs guide the incident commander and hazmat response teams through the process of making critical decisions with immediate access to huge data resources. This is a significant resource with the threat of terrorist attacks.

â?¢ System infrastructure and hardware â?? Many of the services/programs that have been discussed in this article require the use of specific system infrastructure and/or hardware. One such infrastructure systems is the computer-aided dispatch (CAD). CAD generally automates the call taking/dispatch process and sends that information to the responders by radio, text message and/or data. Mobile Data Computer (MDC) systems provide a private network generally owned and maintained by a government agency and is usually only used by the government's public safety agencies. These systems, depending on system sophistication and capacity, offer various levels of functionality and bandwidth.