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Winter 2006/2007
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Milford, Connecticut, Fire Department Uses GIS for Optimizing Incident Response

Providing In-Vehicle Access to More than 3,500 Prefire Plans

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The Milford GIS applications reduce the amount of time spent doing data entry, data maintenance, and other office work. Fire staff can spend more time training and developing fire response skills.

Fire departments across the country, no matter the size or location, are dedicated to serving the public and protecting life and property. This dedication drives agencies to constantly improve how they operate—and this is certainly the case with the Milford Fire Department (MFD). Located in Milford, Connecticut, the agency is one of the top-tier fire agencies in the country. MFD is a full-service agency that handles all aspects of emergency services, including fire, emergency medical services, emergency rescue, and hazardous materials response. The highly touted agency is a class one fire department—the highest rating given—and is only one of three in the New England area, with approximately 44 in the United States out of roughly 43,000 fire departments.

Wielding Innovation as a Tool of the Trade

The Milford Fire Department has a long history of pre-event planning and data management. As part of its leading fire service delivery efforts, MFD has a comprehensive collection of prefire plans for the thousands of buildings and land parcels located within its service area. The department spent years and hundreds of man-hours working with the community it serves to collect all types of building data. Yet the more information MFD collected, the more it was having trouble maintaining the information and storing it in an optimized way where it could be quickly used in an emergency.

As the department's prefire data grew, MFD began to look at new technologies for better managing its data. While attending a public safety conference, fire chief Louis LaVecchia learned about the ability to manage fire information using GIS. Maps were already crucial to the department's incident plans, but they were paper based and were generated using manual methods. The promise of spatial technology meant a faster, more efficient means of collecting, managing, and using the information in an automated environment. The next step involved getting firsthand knowledge of what computer mapping could mean for his fire department.

Employing information he learned at the safety conference, LaVecchia met with staff from Esri and outlined his specific needs, learning how GIS could help his agency. His department then outlined a plan of action, acquired ArcView software, and trained its staff to begin migrating its paper maps and data into the digital system.

After successfully developing the GIS database, an infrastructure was then put in place to provide instant in-vehicle access to information while deploying to an incident. The resulting GIS platform would dramatically change how the agency could serve the public.

Taking Advantage of Industry Applications

MFD utilizes industry-specific applications from Esri business partners. First Look Pro software from the CAD Zone (an Esri Business Partner located in Beaverton, Oregon) is used to organize and access all critical preincident planning information. The CAD Zone uses MapObjects, which provides a very light, fast in-vehicle application for accessing preplans and other facility information important for first responders. The company's integration of prefire incident plans and GIS allowed MFD to leverage its investment in both GIS data and its documentation of critical prefire surveys.

fire engineThe MFD requires analysis to include incident densities and hot spots and assessment of the city's street network to determine response times and fire apparatus run orders. This analysis is performed using FireView software from the Omega Group (an Esri Business Partner located in San Diego, California). It allows MFD to better identify incident patterns and carry out improved response strategies. For instance, the software uses the ArcGIS extensions ArcGIS Network Analyst and ArcGIS Spatial Analyst to analyze response times for each MFD station to provide accurate dispatch areas, and the software is also used to identify incident call trends by type of incident, time of day, and day of week to assess staffing requirements.

The MFD dispatch center is equipped with software from CompassCom (an Esri Business Partner located in Centennial, Colorado) for automatic vehicle location (AVL) and mobile asset tracking. Each piece of fire apparatus is equipped with GIS mapping and AVL equipment, allowing fire commanders, dispatchers, and responders to see the location of other vehicles, emergency incidents, hydrants in relation to those incidents, and all fire department trucks at any given time. Incident commanders and chief officers can manage complex incidents more effectively by assigning apparatus to specific locations and tasks that can be viewed and monitored on the GIS map display within the vehicle.

"We used to respond to calls out of the fire station, viewing a paper wall map that measured 40 by 50 inches that had red dots where hydrants were," says Gary R. Guilmette, 30-year MFD veteran and GIS technician. "Now firefighters automatically have wireless access to the prefire plans and GIS data—a full digital map of the city—in their vehicles when they respond to a call. The mobile GIS applications include all the building data, image data, fire department connection data, hydrant data, and more."

The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system links to mobile, GIS-enabled computers in the fire trucks. When a call comes into the Milford E911 center, the CAD system automatically notifies the mobile computers; geocodes the emergency incident location on a map display within the vehicle; and displays existing prefire plans in association with the map location, along with integrated tabular information, which is displayed visually while responding to the emergency.

"For our AVL system, mapping is used for everything," says Daniel W. Worroll Jr., MFD Emergency Operations Center coordinator. "In addition to all of our fire resources and apparatus, we have a footprint for every building in Milford. We have city infrastructure data integrated with pictures of houses, commercial buildings, and more. Schools, for instance, have 1015 pictures showing all types of information, including floor plans. It's been an invaluable tool to give firefighters what they need before they get to a scene."

More Information

For more information, contact Louis LaVecchia, fire chief, Milford Fire Department (e-mail: LLavecchia@ci.milford.ct.us), or Daniel W. Worroll Jr., Emergency Operations Center coordinator, Milford Fire Department (e-mail: dworroll@ci.milford.ct.us).

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