Dana Rasmussen is a senior marketing communications specialist for Tyler Technologies. She began her career working with public safety officials as a reporter covering the police beat. She has written about the work of dispatchers, law enforcement officers, fire fighters and the communities they serve.
This article is part four 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 world of emergency responses, sometimes radio communication is not enough.
When fire crews in Connelly, NY responded to a house fire where an individual was trapped inside, they experienced what it's like responding to an emergency and wishing for another way to communicate with their units and responding mutual aid companies.
In this particular situation, a neighbor reported the house fire after he was roused from his sleep due to the front windows of his neighbor's home blowing out as a result of the fire's heat. This individual also reported that the man's vehicle was parked in the driveway, which indicated that he was possibly still inside the home as the fire was burning.
"For fire crews, we're always going to work to make sure citizens are kept safe from the dangers of fires and other emergencies," Ulster County's assistant fire chief Robert Rausch who responded to that fire said. "When we responded to this call, which happened in the middle of the night, we knew that the element of danger was increased due to the information that the caller told dispatch, as he was rather certain that an individual was still inside the home."
When fire crews arrived on scene, the front entrance to the home was engulfed in flames. According to Rausch, crews began attacking the fire immediately to control the flame and gain access to the home to begin searching for the resident. Mutual aid was called in to dispatch by the fire chief on the scene requesting more equipment and personnel.
The large response to this house fire required more on-the-scene coordination than a typical fire emergency. To facilitate this coordination, the fire department set up incident command on scene, allowing for better communication regarding all aspects of the response.
Incident command helps manage responders, units, and resources along with planning to manage the effectiveness of what is available for conducting scene operations. It helps response personnel to know who oversees a particular scene.
With this house fire, incident command facilitated multiple crews designated to search and rescue along with those fighting the fire.
"Even with incident command in place, we relied on radio communication to speak with everyone involved in the response," Rausch said. "This was the only way we were able to tell where everyone was located and learn the whereabouts of incoming units."
While crews worked on ventilating the home, and performing search and rescue to locate the individual inside the structure, incident command helped ensure all crew members had as much information as possible to stay safe on the scene.
"Information is vital in any emergency response," Rausch said. "Accessing that vital information is key to keeping first responders and citizens as safe as possible."
Read more: How Firefighters Reduce Risk and Increase Preparedness Using Technology
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 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 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.
When a gunman was on the loose in rural Oregon, public safety personnel worked quickly to get the killer into custody.
In late June 2016, a 911 call came in to the Marion Area Multi-Agency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) reporting a shooting incident. The caller stated that at least one person was dead and others were injured. The shooter had fled the scene.
The dispatcher who took the call immediately began collecting more information and entered it into his computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. The dispatcher discovered the shooting took place in a rural area that bordered two county jurisdictions; METCOM dispatches police and EMS to one of the counties and uses mutual aid from the other county. Mutual aid is an agreement among emergency responders to lend assistance across jurisdictional boundaries.
Due to the severity of the call, the dispatcher with METCOM dispatched the local city police department to respond as automatic aid and coordinated efforts with mutual aid fire and EMS districts. Automatic aid is assistance that is dispatched automatically by a contractual agreement between two fire departments, communities, or fire districts.
When the first rescue units arrived on the scene, they began treating two victims who had gunshot wounds; the third victim was already dead.
"This particular call for service was something we don't get a lot of at METCOM," director Gina Audritsh said. "Being that the incident took place in a rural area, we're glad we had the ability to dispatch first responders to this call and get the individuals the help they needed."
As an active homicide investigation with the shooter's whereabouts unknown, METCOM dispatchers coordinated a multi-agency response. This included auto-paging the incident activity to the agency's Homicide Investigation Team and Tactical SWAT team from Woodburn Police Dept.
To track all responders involved in this call for service, dispatchers monitored activity using the automatic vehicle location functionality (AVL) available in their CAD maps. This provided dispatchers with the ability to track locations and denote any area that fell within the boundaries of each law enforcement jurisdiction so that all agencies could be notified.
In addition, METCOM's incident commander tracked all activity on CAD using built-in functionality that allowed for browsing where all units are located and what calls they're responding to, which ensures no communication was lost between agencies.
This ability to track tips and location information and add narrative about the crime and search for the suspect helped the five dispatchers assigned to the call, command staff, first responders and everyone else working the case to access mission-critical information throughout the search and investigation.
Within eight hours of the initial call for service, the suspect was captured outside of the county trying to flee the state.
"This was a major incident for our community and it had a lot of moving parts," Audritsh said. "Having the tools necessary to ensure we can provide a level of service to our residents is remarkable."
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