On a typical fire emergency call, as many as 18 firefighters from the North Aurora Fire Department near Chicago might be dispatched to a scene. As the firefighters arrive at the location, they immediately spring into action, securing their oxygen tanks, masks and other protective gear weighing as much as 60 lbs. They follow each other inside to face what might be a dangerously burning infrastructure. The fear in their minds more than likely involves their personal safety. But that same fear might also involve the unknown and the possibility that there was not enough time, or enough planning resources, to formulate a confident fire-fighting strategy tailored to that location. In summer 2005, the North Aurora Fire Department found a way to allay that fear.
The department’s 12 full-time and 72 part-time firefighters were previously using large binders to store hard copies of pre-planning information. Bureau Chief Mark Bozik says that while his firefighters were enroute to a call, they would vigorously flip through pre-planning documents, trying to prepare a strategy for navigating the building’s floor plans. Bozik explains that they were “winging it” when it came to entering the building, knowing its features and anticipating danger. “We were seeking a solution to this problem, something that gave our firefighters another opportunity to be aware of the hazards in that building,” he says. Bozik found it in CommandScope from RealView LLC, Chicago.
CommandScope is a pre-planning software that allows fire marshals and inspectors to capture fire pre-plan information electronically while in the field, using mobile computers and tablet PCs. The software can be installed on multiple computers throughout a network and on office and mobile machines to give first responders access to pre-planning data while enroute to or at the scene of an accident. The system functions through a three-step process, allowing the user to capture, transfer and look up pre-plan information from the office or the field. The software replaces the paper pre-plan format with an electronic form deployed to users anywhere in the field.
Capturing data involves importing photographs, drawings and other images of locations. Users can sketch on top of those images and attach audio and video clips to accompany them. Once imported, the data is encrypted using a 128-bit secure sockets layer, and it is automatically published to all computers on the network. Any changes made to the data are updated on each computer in real-time, so all users have correct information. The information can be accessed immediately from anywhere by doing general search using a query such as a building name, address or occupancy.
The North Aurora Fire Department has installed the program on 30 computers, including laptops that are permanently mounted in emergency vehicles and tablet PCs carried by firefighting crews. “Using this software has made our firefighters more aware of the makeup of structures and design of floor plans,” Bozik says. “When we get an emergency call, we cannot afford to fumble around with paper or a computer program that is hard to use. CommandScope allows us to retrieve critical data and floor plans at the scene of an emergency in a quick and easy way.”
Stephen Nardi, president of RealView LLC, says pre-planning in the event of a fire is a necessary thing. “A good percentage of fire equipment already supports computers in the field,” he says. “Firefighters can now bring that pre-planning information up on the screen while heading to the scene instead of searching for the information through numerous hard copies kept in a vehicle.”
The software also aids in the building inspection process. “When fire inspectors complete their inspection, they can take pictures of the location and load floor plans immediately onto the system for future use,” Nardi says. Some fire departments in the Chicago area have as many as 2,000 separate buildings to inspect each year. “All of that data can be safely and securely stored using our program,” Nardi says.
The software can also connect various city departments to share information during emergencies. Nardi adds that the software has many uses in Homeland security. “Security begins with inspection and information gathered at inspection. The next important step is to retain and convey the data to other entities who may be called on in the event of an incident,” he says. “If you recall the major incidents, innumerable entities were called on and undoubtedly would have been much more effective if they had knowledge of previously gathered information.”
CommandScope is currently being used in four fire departments in the Chicago area as well as in a number of areas in Pennsylvania. A residential pre-planning version has been developed to enable residents to send a basic pre-plan of their homes to fire departments.