There was a time when responding to a blaze that was out of control, firefighters attacked the flames without knowing what hazards may be in the building.
But with modern technology, they can realize ahead of time what dangers face them.
Thanks to the efforts of the Burlington County Commissioners, all local fire departments have now received the new First Due software which sends data about the location and nature of the emergency.
“Members of Burlington County’s fire services put their lives on the line to preserve life and property and we support them by making sure they have the equipment and technology needed to help them do their jobs safely and efficiently,” said Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel, the liaison to the Department of Public Safety.
“This software upgrade will help with their response to fires and with planning and preparations. It will also help them manage records efficiently so they can remain focused on their mission,” Eckel said.
“The software will allow fire departments to enter pre-plan information and hazards at specific addresses that will be available to mutual aid departments. The key is the fire departments taking advantage of this capability,” the county Fire Chiefs Association President William Kramer said.
“County fire departments have been on a centralized records management system for the past 15 years or so in cooperation with Burlington County, as they hosted the hardware. That system was useful during that time, but that company has discontinued that software platform,” said Kramer, who is also the Cinnaminson Township Fire Chief.
“This forced the fire departments and the county to examine alternatives. Thus, the software package that the Chiefs Association selected is increasing our capabilities over what we had. With advancements in technology moving so fast in these times, we are hopeful that the County’s 911 CAD system and our records management system will continue to adapt and integrate with each other, providing real-time, accurate and seamless information to all fire agencies,” Kramer said.
“We’ve also spoken quite a bit about fire agencies, but we look forward to working on this new system and then asking our partners in EMS to jump onboard, especially with the response portion, and then all fire and EMS units will have access to identical information on a common operating platform,” Kramer said.
“All fire departments in Burlington County received the software upgrade under a purchasing agreement approved by the County Commissioners. Burlington County assumed the cost of the updated software implementation, file transferring, training and software launch,” County Spokesperson David Levinsky said.
The new software – called First Due – was purchased as a replacement for the County’s existing Firehouse software, said Levinsky, adding that all local fire departments have the upgraded software and their personnel are undergoing training with it.
The new program is currently in use alongside with the old software while fire personnel learn the new system. First due will completely replace the old system on January 1.
As for how the new software will help coordinate communication with fire stations throughout the county, especially with a large fire involving firefighters from several towns, Kramer said, “The Mobile Response module is available for use in command vehicles and fire apparatus on tablets or laptops, which many departments already have in their vehicles. When a call comes in, basic information appears on the screen.
“As units respond in, routing information is provided which is especially useful for mutual aid departments responding to other towns where they may not be familiar with all of the streets. Also as part of the mapping data are hydrant locations and icon markers for things like fire department connections and hazards.
“Preplan information is also supported, such as building layouts, utility shutoffs, emergency contacts and as much detailed information as each department wants to enter. Once on-scene, the incident commander is able to see the location of incoming units in real time,” Kramer said.
“This is particularly important when allocating manpower and issuing fire-ground assignments. A similar version of the Mobile Response module is also available for use on member’s phones to receive call information and coordinate volunteer member responses from home,” he said.
As for the cost of the new software implementation, Kramer said, “Burlington County is paying for the initial implementation cost including data conversion and training at an approximate cost of $40K. The annual licensing cost of $128K is being split across the individual fire departments in the County based on size and usage.
“Their annual cost ranges from about $1,200 to about $8,400 per year. Cinnaminson’s cost will be about $5,200. Individual departments are also responsible for the cost of tablets, laptops and data plans,” Kramer said.
“There have been four training sessions to date with possibly more to follow. There is a learning curve with any new system, but there are common elements to all fire department records management systems, so it’s a matter of learning how the new system handles things that we’re already used to doing in our old systems,” he said.
As for the software helping to keep administrative records in the local fire departments and fire districts, Kramer said, “The system has two major components to it, records management and mobile response. The records management component includes reporting on emergency calls, department activities such as drills, public education, meetings, etc., staff records, firefighter training, equipment inventory and maintenance.
“The mobile response component receives information from the County’s 911 CAD system and provides a way for any County fire department to enter and see preplan information, apparatus locations, hydrant locations and other information needed when responding to calls. Prior to the new system, some individual departments maintained this kind of information on their own to varying degrees using third-party software,” he said.
“The new system consolidates this information and makes it available to all departments across the County. This is especially important as departments rely more on mutual aid,” Kramer said.
“Public safety is one of our top priorities and we’re taking this step to ensure our county’s fire departments have new software to assist them in as many ways as possible,” Commissioner Eckel said.
“There’s also financial savings for these departments, which would likely face significantly greater expenses if they sought to purchase and install similar records systems on their own. By the County taking the lead, all fire departments save and benefit from our Information Technology staff’s expertise,” she said.