There are a number of challenges associated with the management and reporting of fire and rescue incidents. Traditional methods of whiteboards, paper-based reporting and Vehicle Mounted Data Systems (VMDSs) have by their nature taken incident commanders and command teams away from the fire ground and into vehicles. The inaccessibility of information has meant resources that are designed to support decision making and incident control are not always used to their full capability.
The need to capture a more comprehensive picture of key events and critical decisions made during an incident and to increase the accessibility of information on the ground is leading to a shift towards more intuitive and responsive ways of managing incidents through mobile technology.
Here Thomas Hennessy, business development executive at Incidentcontrolroom.com® discusses the limitations of traditional approaches to incident control and explores the use of mobile technology to improve real-time decision making and reporting.
Assessing traditional approaches
A National Incident Command System (NICS) has been developed to enable good practises to be embedded and deployed consistently when managing fire incidents across the UK and Ireland.
Typically, when an incident occurs, the incident commander appoints a command support officer who is responsible for capturing the incident information, documenting decisions, creating the incident log and reporting key information back to the control centre, such as dynamic risk assessments and tactical mode data.
The command support officer may update an Incident Command Board (ICB) situated in a vehicle during an incident to give a transient record of events. At the end of every incident, the incident commander would then fill in a fire report, which is stored as the main legal document.
Vehicle Mounted Data Systems (VMDSs), comprising of a rugged laptop mounted in the front of a vehicle, are also commonly used. The VMDS stores information such as guidelines on how to disassemble a car, mapping systems for local water sources, pre-fire plans for higher risk buildings and access to railways and other essential services. A chemical safety database may also be included, consisting of emergency action codes and instructions for dealing with chemical substances.
There are a number of limitations associated with the use of VMDS technology to manage and record incidents. For example, security and password protected areas can make the system difficult to use. Due to the inaccessibility of information from the fire ground, fire fighters can be reluctant to access the information and may only occasionally use the resources available. ICBs also have restrictions such as no date and time stamp functionality, limited space to write and the inability to share information offsite.
In recent years, more and more fire services are adopting mobile technology. For example, 65 per cent of all fire services in Ireland now use a mobile application called ICR Fire and Rescue™.
There are many factors that are driving this increased adoption. Perhaps most importantly, it is widely accepted that the incident command team are more useful on the fire ground, as opposed to in a vehicle. Mobile technology can move information from the vehicle, closer to the incident ground and into the hands of the incident commander.
By increasing the accessibility of information, a fire service can ensure it is more widely used, encouraging best practise and ensuring compliance with procedures. Using handheld devices, officers can easily refer to standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and have instant access to a library of information, which is particularly useful to support the decision making process when handling more unusual incidents.
The need to share information offsite, for example, with the control room, is also a key driver for the use of more mobile systems. Remote access means that officers back at the station can log in and access up to date incident progress, as well as photographs directly from the scene of the incident.
In addition, the ability to record what is happening on the fire ground and capture events as close to real-time as possible is a major advantage when compiling reports after an incident, and also helps to support health and safety procedures and future training activities.
As well as improving incident control, fire services can also generate cost efficiencies by implementing mobile technology. Tablets are relatively inexpensive compared to rugged laptops which need to be regularly maintained.
Using mobile technology: a case example
Kildare County Fire Service is just one example of a fire service that has successfully migrated from traditional approaches for incident control to the use of mobile technology.
Kildare County Fire Service provides a fire service to a population of over 210,000 citizens in County Kildare, Ireland, consisting of approximately 100 employees spread over six fire stations. Last year alone, the service responded to 1760 incidents.
Niall Burke, senior assistant chief fire officer at Kildare County Fire Service was first introduced to ICR Fire and Rescue™ at the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) conference in 2014. He said: “We recognised that the technology we were using had become outdated, stagnant and restrictive in nature. We had received many requests to make the VMDS more mobile but couldn’t find a way to do it.”
Initially four station officers trialled the software and were asked to evaluate whether it was something that would support teams on the fire ground. After a successful review period, the technology was rolled out across all six fire stations.
Niall explains: “The library of information stored on ICR is continuously developing into a rich resource and information hub that can be accessed on the fire ground. Having accessibility to this information is invaluable and reading it on a tablet at the incident scene is much more efficient than as a PDF back at the vehicle. The information can also be used as a training resource to promote continual best practice.
“The app helps us to deliver consistency around the application of the National Incident Command System (NICS). As you work through the various screens you are prompted to record dynamic risk assessments, tactical modes, sectorisation, operational priorities and personnel on the fire ground. I have also been impressed by the speed at which an incident report can be generated using real-time data.”
By migrating from a legacy VMDS to an app-based solution, Kildare County Fire Service has been able to increase access to information at the scene of incidents, as well as improving reporting procedures, in real-time and post-incident. The system has led the way for a wider mobile computing strategy at the fire service, opening the door to other mobile applications, all with the aim of making the role of fire fighters simpler and safer.
For more information, go to www.incidentcontrolroom.com