This article is part three in a four-part series on fire responses and the roles of firefighters in the US.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
When fire crews respond to an unknown structure fire, they must prepare for the worst.
Unknown structure fires by their very nature present a level of danger for fire crews and the individuals involved in the emergency. While dispatchers gather as much information about the emergency as possible, what they know about the situation depends heavily on their computer aided dispatch (CAD) system's capabilities.
When a dispatcher can access premise history information regarding an address, which can include details of previous incidents at the address and potential hazards onsite, first responders use that data to stay safer on the scene. However, providing these details to fire crews is only possible when dispatchers have a CAD system with those capabilities.
According to former firefighter Dan Stringer who worked for a fire department in Michigan, there was one unknown structure fire that he responded to where access to extra information could have meant the difference between life and death.
The incident Stringer recalled involved a fire happening on a wooded property set back more than a quarter of a mile down a dirt driveway, which had significant ice accumulation due to a winter storm.
"When fire crews respond to an emergency and are unsure of the location, there is always the potential that the apparatus they're using won't make it to the scene due to impassable conditions," Stringer said. "A ladder truck is not going to make it across a one-lane, rural bridge, which can present a problem for responders getting to the scene. Thankfully, in this situation, we were able to get one truck on the scene and pump water to the scene from a fire engine parked at a hydrant location."
The scene in question involved a barn, which was completely engulfed in flames. When fire crews began attacking the fire from inside the structure, they discovered construction equipment and numerous drums of oil, some of which were beginning to boil.
"There was a significant explosion risk that we didn't even know about until we were inside the structure," Stringer said. "If those oil drums had exploded, that fire would have been catastrophic for the crews."
Although the barn was a total loss due to damage, fire crews extinguished the flames and no one was injured.
"Technology has made it possible for fire crews to know so much more when they respond to any emergency, but it's not available in all fire departments," Stringer said. "Instant, real-time information is vital to staying safe on the scene of an emergency."
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This article is part two in a four-part series on fire responses and the roles of firefighters in the US
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |
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.”
This article is part one in a four-part series on fire responses and the roles of firefighters in the US
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
In the United States, a fire emergency is reported on average every 23 seconds.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), that statistic encompasses everything from structure, home, outdoor, unclassified, and vehicle fires.
To understand the scope of fire emergencies in the US, it's important to understand the anatomy of a fire department.
According to the NFPA, there are 58,750 fire stations in the US, which consist of the following:
In addition to fighting fires, many of these fire departments also offer specialized services including vehicle extrication, public education, specialized rescue, fire investigation, advanced life support, hazardous material removal, in-house training, and intervention programs.
When a fire emergency is reported to 911, career and volunteer firefighters are alerted by dispatch and quickly respond to the incident. While career and volunteer firefighters are equally responsible for responding to fire, medical, traffic, and other emergencies throughout the country, in some cases volunteers adhere to a different set of guidelines or qualifications.
This difference in guidelines could mean these individuals can only respond with senior-level or career firefighters, however, they are instrumental in a fire response.
To find out more about the role of firefighters in the US, subscribe to The Call and follow our series on fire responses and firefighters over the coming weeks.
Take a look back at this article to find out how the Oxnard Police Dept. in California was able to reduce the number of gang shootings in the city through the use of intelligence-led policing techniques.
With intelligence led policing, the Oxnard Police Dept. in California is reducing the number of gang shootings in the city.
Located in the Greater Los Angeles area, and with a population of about 207,000 residents, the Oxnard Police Department (PD) continually seeks ways of effectively addressing gang violence.
To combat this problem, the Oxnard PD uses information-driven policing techniques to help address gang activities, especially when there is a connection with violent crime.
In August of 2013, severe thunderstorms moved over Marion County, Oregon, resulting in a series of lightning-caused fires.
According to Marion Area Multi-Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) communications specialist Loren Hall, these types of fires are rare, but on that day, several occurred in multiple areas of the county.
At 4:47 p.m., a call came in about a house fire within a gated community.
At that time, first responders were already on the scene of a motor vehicle accident and another house fire, which would preclude these individuals from responding to the large house fire. Acknowledging that this would delay the time it took for fire personnel to reach the house fire, the Marion County fire chief escalated the fire to a third alarm.
Categorizing fires with alarms indicates the level of response needed by local authorities. Each alarm elevation indicates the level of severity and how difficult the fire may be to contain.
By the time the first unit arrived on the scene at 5:03 p.m., flames were blazing from the attic roof. Less than half an hour later, a ceiling collapsed, engulfing the interior fire crew in the attic fire and causing a firefighter outside the structure to call MAYDAY over the radio.
As the fire continued burning, it escalated to a sixth alarm.
In total, 44 apparatus, including 18 engines, 15 water tenders, two wildland engines, six ambulances, two support trucks, and 125 firefighters were dispatched to the scene.
To handle the significant response to this fire emergency, an additional dispatcher and a command-level fire officer were brought in and roles were reassigned. This helped better equip the primary and secondary dispatcher to coordinate resources and dispatch additional alarms.
In addition, the command officer coordinated a regional-level response preventing other areas served by METCOM from going uncovered.
Furthermore, the computer aided dispatch (CAD) software system used by METCOM allowed for individuals involved with the fire to see what was happening globally and maintain a high level of situational awareness throughout the emergency.
“On a day when we have multiple emergencies occurring that require a large response, having the ability to work with our CAD system and provide dependable coverage over the entirety of the community that we serve is just incredible,” Hall said.
In the spring of 2017, dozens of burglaries were reported in the city of Clovis.
Located in California’s Central Valley, Clovis averages approximately 1,000 burglaries per year. However, the city shares a border with the city of Fresno, which has the second-highest property crime rate in the county.
According to Sgt. James Munro of the Clovis Police Dept., law enforcement officers worked with crime analysts to determine a pattern among the burglaries. To do this, data was taken from the Clovis PD’s law enforcement records management system.
This data showed when and where individuals reported their vehicles were broken into along with what was stolen, which included wallets, purses, and valuables.
This information was gathered by victims' reports, security camera footage, time of day, and location of the burglaries. Individuals also reported the type of vehicle used to flee the scene, although none could get a read on the license plate number.
With all of this information, crime analysts with the Clovis PD were able to connect cases and identify a pattern.
"Our crime analysts were able to use this information generated from our records system, which helped us connect all of the open burglary cases," Munro said. "When you're able to connect cases not only can you potentially identify a suspect, but you can also start developing a crime pattern,".
By connecting cases and examining data within the police department's records system, a suspect was identified and his description was shared with officers.
The suspect was apprehended during a routine traffic stop when the patrol officer noticed he fit the description of the burglary suspect and had stolen property in his vehicle. The Clovis PD closed more than 40 open burglary cases as a result of arresting the individual.
In a fire emergency, every second is crucial. That's why dispatchers must work quickly to send the appropriate response to the scene.
When a summer lightning storm caused multiple fires in an Oregon community, dispatchers with the Marion Area Multi Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) were tasked with providing effective coverage to their citizens.
To do this, dispatchers relied heavily on built-in fire response plan capabilities in METCOM's computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. These plans dictate what units and capabilities are needed for a specific call and help get a response moving as quickly as possible. Because fire emergencies can escalate quickly, these plans also take alarm levels assigned to fires into consideration.
When dispatchers escalate a fire emergency to a higher alarm, which indicates the severity of the fire emergency, they know exactly what type of response will be sent to the scene with pre-determined responses built in to CAD.
According to METCOM director Gina Audritsh, dispatch centers throughout the United States use the term level and alarm synonymously when discussing fire emergencies.
"It's important that dispatchers can assign alarms in CAD to fire emergencies and get the right response to the scene as quickly as possible," Audritsh said. "Without these capabilities, sending the best response takes longer."
According to Audritsh, there was a time before METCOM upgraded its CAD system when dispatchers relied on paper maps and manual processes when sending a response.
"At METCOM, we've come a long way," Audritsh said. "We've grown to dispatch for 29 agencies. To do this effectively, we needed a CAD system capable of getting our first responders on the scene as quickly and safely as possible. We have that capability now and our responses have improved so much that our fire departments have experienced improved scores with their insurance rating as a result."
When a fire broke out at an Oregon high school, dispatchers relied on response plan capabilities built into their CAD system to get help on the scene as quickly as possible. Take a look back at this article to find out how response plans help dispatchers send the best response possible.
When a fire tore through an Oregon high school, fire crews worked diligently to prevent injuries to students and staff.
The fire started in early May of 2012, which was just six months after the Marion Area Multi-Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) went live on its computer aided dispatch (CAD) software.
This meant that all those working at METCOM were using new technology that had changed their workflow significantly. However, this structure fire provided METCOM with the opportunity to test the new system and its fire response plan capabilities.
A train crash is something many commuters never even think about until it happens.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 24, 2015, an individual mistakenly drove his truck onto the grade crossing of a railroad track in Oxnard, CA. The truck became stuck on the track and the driver exited the vehicle without calling for help.
Within 12 minutes, the truck was struck by a commuter train traveling from East Ventura to Los Angeles at 64 mph. The train derailed sending three of its five cars onto the roadway alongside the track.
Almost immediately after the derailment, 9-1-1 calls began flooding dispatchers in Oxnard. According to the Oxnard PD's IT Manager Raja Bamrungpong, an accident of this magnitude resulted in numerous public safety agencies responding.
"As soon as the calls came in to dispatch about the train crash, we knew this would be a large response," Bamrungpong said.
Dispatchers with the Oxnard PD sent a fast response to the scene using their computer aided dispatch (CAD) software.
With CAD, dispatchers see where all first responders are located on a digital map. In the event of an emergency with possible life-threatening injuries like in the train crash, this ability to see where units are located along with their estimated times of arrival (ETA) data helps send the fastest response to the scene.
Within minutes, officers from Oxnard were on the scene along with several other law enforcement agencies and fire departments that were dispatched to assist in the response.
At the time of the accident, more than 25 individuals who were passengers on the train were taken to area hospitals and treated for injuries.
"Being able to respond quickly to an accident as large as the train derailment and provide services to all those impacted is something we strive to do as an agency," Bamrungpong said.
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