Apparatus Learn to ‘Talk’ Via Web

On modern fire apparatus and emergency vehicles is a storehouse of information that can help mechanics determine when it’s time for preventative maintenance, and tell a chief officer that someone violated department policies by driving too fast or without safety belts.

At Firehouse Expo in Baltimore Friday, July 23 attendees who participated in a class called “Cast a Web on Maintenance” learned that apparatus loves to tattle, and tell people when they need an oil change, for example.

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“Apparatus have voices, they just didn’t have a way to talk,” said Chris Magiera, the assistant chief of the Algoma (Wis.) Fire Department and vice president of FirePrograms Software.

Technology has made it possible for apparatus to not only collect information on engine and drive train performance and driver operations, but to broadcast it to the internet to make it available for examination virtually anywhere with a web connection.

The use of Records Management Software (RMS) can automatically keep apparatus equipment and department operations in sync and the information readily available to anyone who needs it, Magiera said.

The RMS technology can send an email message to a chief to alert them to unsafe operations, like speeding, he said. It can also send a message to a technician saying an engine fault code was detected in the apparatus, or that it has just exceeded the miles for an oil change or other scheduled maintenance.

The fact that information from the apparatus can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection is a convenience that Magiera said he appreciates, as a paid-on call firefighter with obligations to a career and family. He doesn’t need to go into the station to check apparatus performance; he can be sitting on the sofa with his wife and a laptop.

“I might not go into the station for three or four days, but the information is available any time I need it,” he said.

The system transmits information wirelessly through a WiFi hot spot at the station and places it on a server. The system can be programmed to send alerts to anyone if seatbelts aren’t buckled, if the pump is not being operated properly, speeds exceeded, or some sort of maintenance issue is required. The data can be transmitted any time the apparatus enters a WiFi hot spot anywhere.

“There are times when things happen and no one wants to fess up,” Magiera said. “This kind of system keeps people honest… Is there any reason for the engine to be going 67 miles per hour through downtown?”

With that information, Magiera said a chief can call the officer on the engine to ask what’s going on and question the operations in real time.

In addition, the compiled information and codes can help mechanics schedule and prepare for maintenance, Magiera said.

“Predicting how much to budget for maintenance is a lot like looking into a cloudy crystal ball and taking a guess,” Magiera, noting that the RMS program can help reduce the guesswork.

By putting some accountability into the equation, it can also help make sure apparatus is properly fueled and its components are not improperly used.

“Your apparatus has a voice,” Magiera said. “You just need to listen.”