Accessing Lifesaving Information During a Fire Response

October 16, 2017 by Dana Rasmussen

Accessing Lifesaving Information During a Fire Response

In many fire departments throughout the United States, when a fire emergency is reported and crews are dispatched, it’s common for crews to have very little information about the incident to which they are responding.

According to Brock Race, a 27-year veteran volunteer firefighter in Dover, NY, there have been numerous times in his career when additional information about a fire emergency could have helped save lives and reduced structure damage. However, one experience stands out the most and it involved responding to a smoke investigation call.

“The thing you have to remember with fighting fires is that crews are always going to strive to save lives and minimize damage,” Race said. “That was true when the first fire station was ever created and it’s true today. The good thing about today, though, is that we have more technology on hand to take some of the unknown out of a situation. There have definitely been times in my career when the unknown has been incredibly dangerous.”

With no access to a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system or other public safety software, fire crews relied solely on radio transmissions with dispatch, who were able to provide the address and what little information they had about the scene.

“When we got to the scene around 7 a.m. that particular morning, we saw that it was a tire recycling facility,” Race said. “While responding, we had no idea of the size of the building we were responding to or the hazards it contained.”

Race said the crew quickly realized that the smoke investigation call was really a raging fire in a building full of hazards.

“At one point during the response, I was operating directly over a storage room full of acetylene, which is a highly flammable and explosive gas,” Race said. “Luckily, we cleared out of that area after discovering we were over a massive fuel load, but that is the type of information crews are lucky to have in advance when possible. That information can help save a life.”

Within minutes the entirety of the tire plant was in flames. Mutual aid from 46 fire departments was called in from neighboring counties. Crews were cleared from the call seven days later.

While catastrophic large fires can happen in any community and in any situation, fire crews are more equipped to handle these situations when they have technological tools that provide them with more information.

According to Race, when fire crews have access to mobile data terminals (MDTs) in their rescue vehicles, this provides them with the same information dispatchers see with their CAD systems. This information contains premise history data, lists of known onsite hazards, building contact information, map views of the location, and other necessary details that can help crews understand and assess risk. Knowing these details helps crews plan and decide upon the best course of action for tackling a fire to keep fire crews and civilians safe while reducing structural damage.

“Throughout my career as a firefighter, I will always remember the fire at the tire plant,” Race said. “A situation like that would be much different now with the technology we can access.”

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