This is the first in a series of articles that will focus upon the use of computers to support all phases of fire department operations. Since you are reading this article on the Web you are well oriented to the use of the computer and the infinite amount of information it makes available to you. This series will, hopefully, help you use the computer to more effectively improve fire department operations.
Firefighting is a dangerous and physically demanding job. It is also highly technical and a voracious consumer of information. Each day tasks of record keeping, hazard and risk assessment, planning, training, health and safety of personnel, firefighting operations, investigation of cause and origin, and fire incident patterning are becoming more information intensive. In addition to an officer trying to do the job better and safer, there are evolving best practices, standards, laws, and regulations demanding it.
Improved fire service knowledge about how to effectively do the job and use this new technology has increased the expectations of the community and the fire fighters themselves. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has begun to codify those expectations in the NFPA 1710 (Career) and NFPA 1720 (Volunteer) Standards. And from a negative perspective, in these litigious times, the most effective defense to a negligence lawsuit is a solid foundation of a full spectrum of information: e.g., records, training delivered and operations action taken. "If it wasn't written down it didn't happen."
Computer technology helps us fight fires every day. From Enhanced 911, to the processors on newer apparatus, to PASS alarms, and computer main frames and desktops that drive administrative systems, the technology saves us time, keeps apparatus functioning efficiently, keeps track of people and budgets. Based at the dispatch center, Enhanced 911 software instantly retrieves information about the location of the alarm and other location specific data and permits the clear and effective dispatch of first responders. Computerized Assisted Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEOFEMA/NOAA/DOT) offers a suite of programs to provide responders with valuable site and chemical information at the command post.
Fire house computers come in many forms. Desk top personal computers (PC), notebook computers, tablet computers, and personal data assistants (PDAs) are growing in popularity. And flash sticks, wireless access, and the web are pushing the fire service toward another horizon. These machines require standard and specialized software to carry out their functions. But the most important component is the data collected about hazards, risks, populations at risk, and operations that is turned into decision making information.
The command fire officer faces increased complexity of response tasks and processes to resolve problems. There is increasing consciousness and concern about personnel health and safety, basic Fit-For-Service screening, personnel tracking during operations, rehabilitation, exposure monitoring, and the maintenance of adequate records
Information is flying at the fire command officer from every direction. What is good information? What is necessary information? How do we retain it and in what form? How and when do we retrieve it for use? We need information but at what expense? We are firefighters, not IT office workers, right? In the past, firefighters paid homage to "experience" as the repository of important information. But with improved information management and more efficient information retrieval the benefits of this "experience" can be realized by all firefighters.
Information is Power. Knowledge unlocks the door to problem solutions, to correct decisions. "A reasonable person with the correct information, will make the correct decision." But when information is not shared, that is, held closely among one or a few, the control of knowledge is the source of serious department dysfunction.