Pre-Fire Planning: New Technology, Tailored Software

To this day, Milford, CT, Fire Chief Louis LaVecchia still can’t believe what happened at a major fire in his town 20 years ago. One day, a huge blaze erupted at the Lighter Division of the BIC Pen Company in Milford. Lacking a pre-fire plan...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

The Milford Fire Department’s wireless pre-fire planning system gives it the kind of instantaneous information it needs when responding to a fire call. Each engine’s computer has an I.D. reference number. When a 911 emergency call comes into the department’s Emergency Operations Center, the call is dispatched immediately and then routed to a central computer, which then locates the I.D. reference number on the ruggedized computer within each engine that will go out. The computer then sends the address of the fire to the engines’ computers, and simultaneously brings up the First Look Pro and mapping programs, pinpointing the address. These wireless, computerized functions happen within a span of roughly 10 seconds.

Daily Pre-Planning

Today, with the wireless program on the apparatus computers, Milford’s firefighters visit every building in their city each year and develop a basic pre-fire plan or update an existing one. According to LaVecchia, “First Look Pro allowed us to start out with basic information and build on the pre-plan every year.” The software also can import digital photos to help a firefighter or incident commander recognize the building. The Milford Fire Department currently is obtaining detailed photos of all flat roofs on buildings.

While Milford’s pre-fire planning effort is exemplary, LaVecchia stressed that other fire departments nationwide can still accomplish superior pre-fire planning on a far lesser scale. And many departments will be forced to do just that given their constrained budgets. Just the same, he said, “You’ve got to start (pre-fire planning). If you can’t go wireless at first, at least get onto a laptop so that when you get to a scene you can type in the address and bring up the matching pre-fire plan. Obviously, that’s a lot lower cost than going wireless.”

One of several other fire departments inching closer to installing ruggedized computers in its apparatus is the Bowling Green, OH, Fire Department. Bowling Green’s 50-member department uses the same software programs (Fire Zone and First Look Pro) as Milford.

“We create the pre-plans, make the drawings, do the surveys of the properties and then enter them into a computer at the main station,” Captain Stephen Meredith said. “Then, they’re printed out and placed in notebooks in each apparatus.”

This level of progress would be an accomplishment for any fire department, and so far, Meredith said, the approach is working. Until pre-fire plans can be accessed on computers inside apparatus, the main goal for Bowling Green’s department is to prepare as many plans as possible and make them accessible and easy to update. This task is much easier now that the department has software specifically designed to build pre-fire plans.

Automated Pre-Plans

When the Bowling Green Fire Department bought its pre-fire diagramming software, Meredith recalled, his personnel made their own drawings with it, then carried the drawings around on disks. “They were not stored on the central server,” he said. “It was difficult to find the drawings when they needed updating.”

Today, however, firefighters can access diagrams for most of Bowling Green’s buildings on computers tied to a centralized server, regardless of whether they are on duty at the main station or the city’s west side station.

0404tech3.jpg
Photo courtesy of The CAD Zone Inc.
The Fire Zone diagram gives accurate and clear pre-fire information that is created with the software from a laptop or desktop computer.

The sprawling campus of Bowling Green State University also is under the protection of the Bowling Green Fire Department and is included in the pre-fire surveys. The university boasts a population of 20,000 when school is in session, and it constitutes a large number of the fire department’s runs for both fire and emergency medical calls. Therefore, having quick access to pre-fire plans is essential.

Not only have the pre-fire software programs helped Bowling Green quickly find pre-fire plans for reference or updating, but they also have helped the fire department collect and organize as much information about a single building as possible and make it all available with a simple keystroke at the computer. The department has used The Fire Zone for at least the past eight years. By adding First Look Pro in the past few years, the department can tie its pre-fire surveys to each building diagram. Using the pre-fire software allows each pre-plan to be easily updated twice a year. By having both programs tied together, Meredith said, “We can find both the survey (in First Look Pro) and the building pre-fire plan diagram (in Fire Zone) when we need them.”