Thursday, February 5, 2009

A "Fire Box" or fire computer?

The Kern County Fire Department in California has started installing 50 locked red boxes around the county labeled "Fire Department". Inside are multiple copies of binders in water tight bags, each containing information about structure locations, water sources, access, fuel treatments, safety zones, communications, evacuations and other information firefighters would need when responding to a wildland fire.

Maps in the boxes have data about staging areas, locations for incident command posts, locked gates, helispots, helicopter dip sites, and hazards.

All of this information is extremely valuable to have during a fire, and access to it can enhance the safety of firefighters and the public. While we applaud Kern County FD for compiling the data, we hope that it is only a first step toward providing it in a more efficient manner.

The boxes are subject to vandalism and the information will never be completely current. Updating the multiple binders in each of the 50 boxes will be a daunting task, and not inexpensive.

Many fire departments are providing this same information electronically by radio to small computers in each fire vehicle. A moving map display linked to a GPS will show all of the data that firefighters need to safely and efficiently fight the fire and can be constantly and immediately updated.

It will also show the locations of other fire apparatus in the area. For example, a Division Supervisor would know that an engine was positioned in a dangerous area or at a residence that was rated as unprotectable due to a lack of vegetation clearance and could direct the Captain to move to a safer location. Or she could see that some residences did not have fire apparatus assigned, and could deploy incoming resources appropriately.

In the not too distant future these systems will display a real-time fire perimeter map and live video of the fire provided by an orbiting Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. This would take situational awareness to to a whole new level.

These systems are a little pricey, but so are funerals and skin grafts for burn victims. Here are some links to information about providing information to responding firefighters.

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