This piece was originally published in the July 2017 issue of electroindustry.
Michael O’Brian CFO MiFirE, Fire Chief, Brighton Area Fire Authority, Brighton Michigan
Chief O’Brian chairs the Fire and Life Safety Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and is affiliated with the NEMA Fire and Life Safety Section.
When a call comes into a 9-1-1 dispatch center, it needs an immediate response.
The way first responders are notified has come a long way from ringing a bell or the box alarm system. With the increased congestion of roadways, the fire service is looking at means to notify responding firefighters faster and reduce response times.
Emergency dispatch centers can now grab an address from a traditional landline or locate it within close proximity of a cell call. Many communities now receive requests via text. Knowing the nature of the emergency is critical for alerting responding fire service personnel.
Once the call is received, a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system typically advises the dispatcher, who then uses an alarm code to notify the appropriate station. This can be done with a telephone or a radio call, which also may open an audio pager. Many fire service agencies use two methods for notification.
Because of the speed and widespread use of cellphones, many communities simultaneously transmit a radio call while the CAD pushes a text or page to an app program, such as iamresponding. This notifies responders quickly. Staff may also use a program that shows the location of responding firefighters and can even track who is responding.
As soon as vehicles begin to respond, other technologies aid in reducing response time and making the response as safe as possible. Today’s modern fire engines use computers and GPS to map a route and share the location with other responders.
One of the most dangerous locations for the apparatus is every intersection. Ensuring the safety of responders and those on the road alongside the responding apparatus is important. Some communities use technology to control an intersection’s lights through a flashing strobe or GPS. Preemption systems allow the intersection light to turn green in the direction of travel, or change all the lights to red.
While responding, a non-driver company officer uses on-board computers, handheld tablets, or even paper copies of a pre-incident plan that give the responding crew an idea of the building layout, systems, and hazardous materials.
Responding crews rely on technology to assist their responses. For instance, intelligent fire alarm systems allow for a greater understanding of where the alarm was initiated and the current status of the critical systems in a building.
The changes that have occurred over the past 10 years give staff greater information at their fingertips. It is unknown where technology is taking our fire service over the next 10 years, but it is certain the streaming video to a command center or GPS tracking for fighters is sure to top the list.