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Since 1990, I have had the privilege to work on a number of technology initiatives, emergency service websites and other fire service projects. In this column I will explain how "community partnerships" helped to make these technology projects, websites and general programs become successful.
On the Internet side, the first community partnership occurred between the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department with the University of Virginia. In 1994, there was no access to the Internet and very few people in the area were using the Internet to any real extent. Interest was stimulated by the need for information available from weather services on the web, which provided critical information regarding hurricanes. That stimulated the interest of the fire department administration to seek a resource that could provide Internet access.
In the beginning, the Internet was used primarily by education institutions for research and through a positive working relationship with the University of Virginia Department of Environmental Health and Safety, the fire department was provided with access to the University dial-in service to the Internet. They also provided two e-mail accounts that the fire department could use to communicate to anyone in the world.
- Tip 1 - Learn what resources are available from your higher education schools and seek their assistance.
The next area involves the Charlottesville Fire Department's website, www.cfdonline.org. In the beginning, like most fire departments, Charlottesville had little understanding or appreciation of the information medium that was about to unfold. In addition, it did not have in-house personnel with any knowledge of how to develop a website. This is where a community partnership becomes the "cornerstone" of our website success.
Having little knowledge, assistance was sought from a local service provider (Cornerstone Networks - www.cstone.net). Not only did the people there provide access to the web with free Internet accounts, they also provided free web hosting and a home for our website.
But it didn't stop there. They created a fire department guestbook that has logged hundreds of comments from visitors, helped set up interactive features to allow for citizen input and requests, and set up a Real Audio Server that provides live fire department radio transmissions over the web - all at no cost!
- Tip 2 - Research what your local Internet service providers (ISPs) may provide in the way of a community service. Many times, it's FREE!
Today, the Charlottesville Fire Department enjoys having one of the most popular fire department websites in the world, but it is because of some other exciting features that were provided by a third community partnership with a local company called Realitysmith (www.realitysmith.com). This company designs panoramic views, develops Quicktime movies and creates virtual reality models for the Internet. While attending a technology-related presentation, Realitysmith owner Joel Smith offered to develop some unique applications for the Charlottesville Fire Department website. His comment was, "I've always wanted to do something for the fire department - for that reason, and for a ride on a fire truck, I'll do it." Since that meeting, Joel has developed a virtual fire engine, the only interactive virtual reality thermal image camera on the Internet, and the most recent, a virtual station tour - all for a ride on a fire truck!
- Tip 3 - Discover what technology companies are in your community and ask how they can be a part of your website or help with other technology initiatives. You'll be surprised by the enthusiastic reception.
- Tip 4 - Use your fire department's community status to encourage corporate involvement by recognizing their contributions.
The acquisition of thermal imaging cameras is one shining example where community partnerships can and do make a big difference. When thermal imaging cameras first came on the market, prices were much higher and funding was insufficient to purchase one.