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Winter 2008/2009
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North Las Vegas Fire Department Makes Most of Mapping

Highlights

  • ArcGIS is used to review critical staffing on first alarm incidents, motor vehicle accidents, and single unit responses.
  • The fire department accesses real-time data during a response.
  • GIS allows easy historical analysis for responding to changing conditions.

Fighting fire is more than responding to a call. It is careful planning; resource allocation; and strategic, proactive personnel deployment.

So while some may think the job of a firefighter begins when the alarm sounds, the troops assemble, and the trucks roll out of the firehouse, the fact is that continuous, ongoing work is done to calculate where to place resources at the right times to be ready in a moment's notice.

  click to enlarge
To help in the purchase of cyanide antidote kits for smoke inhalation patients, this map was used to look at areas where smoke inhalations have occurred.

The City of North Las Vegas Fire Department knows this well. With a booming population and new streets, housing, and business locations constantly being developed, the fire department's planning becomes that much more complex.

The agency began using GIS applications for numerous areas. The science of firefighting has taken on a geographic approach. GIS helps prevent emergencies from occurring, reduces their consequences, and provides first responders with the best information possible while deploying to an emergency.

"I decided to be a firefighter because I wanted to help people," says Ryan Green, firefighter, City of North Las Vegas Fire Department. "GIS gives us an opportunity to affect numerous lives. GIS provides quantifiable benefits in terms of efficiency and those kinds of things, but most importantly, it helps save lives. In the past, we needed maps to make decisions, but we either asked other agencies to create GIS maps or administrators to draw new data on paper."

Managing the Fire Service

The North Las Vegas Fire Department maintains approximately 233 full-time employees, including suppression, prevention, and support staff. The city, and consequently the department, has experienced rapid growth in the last eight years. The department has doubled in size during this time and has built three new fire stations with two more planned.

Following a period of software comparison and networking with others in the fire community, the North Las Vegas Fire Department decided to move forward with ArcGIS.

ArcGIS is used to plot out incidents by type, location, and response time so that historical analysis can help paint an information picture for commanders to understand what is happening on the ground and where to deploy the right kind of resources for proactive mitigation. For instance, where is there a high volume of strokes, heart attacks, or similar medical emergencies occurring? Where are arsons occurring? Where are medical emergencies of any particular type with a similar demographic happening? Where are hazardous material incidents occurring?

GIS is used to review critical staffing on first alarm incidents, motor vehicle accidents, and single unit responses.

Computer-aided dispatch data, brought into ArcGIS software, allows a user to see if a unit was at the station, in training, clearing another incident, or involved in any other activity during a call. Evaluating unit locations when a call comes in allows staff to verify if the closest unit, or the unit best equipped to respond to an incident, was selected to respond to an event.

In every apparatus, a mobile computer terminal receives dispatch information, unit mapping, and incident mapping and allows data collection en route to, on scene of, and while returning from an incident. A call comes in and a screen appears with tabular data listing the call location, incident type, other units deploying to the scene, and any other available information.

GIS is also used for evaluating where to place new stations, which can cost millions in construction and staffing. Ensuring the best location is not only a cost issue but also a matter of optimizing the placement of resources to help save lives. The mapping of all incidents, in correlation with response time models, illustrates the best locations for new station placement and how they would positively impact the overall response times for all fire stations. What once involved spreadsheets and reams of numerical data can now be done quickly and efficiently using GIS. These results can be printed as hard-copy maps for presentation and funding.

"This has been instrumental in demonstrating to the city manager, the city council, and fire administrators where new stations need to be according to our department's response time goals," explains Green. "We analyze response times, staffing levels, and multiple incident variables in one calculation to identify the best locations for new stations. GIS is then used to find and display county assessor's parcel data to find properties within the optimized areas for acquisition."

Proactive Data Research

The department is using ArcGIS to perform a number of studies to look at incidents, their locations, and other data to help proactively address issues. For instance, studies looking at hip fractures, assaults, and smoke inhalation have all produced actionable information about special needs in order to provide appropriate service delivery.

In addition, the agency is involved in a stroke study. By identifying areas of high stroke probability using data captured from computer-aided dispatch, the department proactively places resources that can best respond to these types of emergencies: "We have isolated a demographic profile in a specific area of our city that unfortunately amounts to 50 percent of our stroke incidents," says Green.

A recent study looked at high incidents of cyanide inhalation that had been taking place throughout the area: "Cyanide has become a prevalent product of combustion in modern house fires," says Green. "All of the synthetics that are used to make furniture, toys, television sets, and everything else one finds in a modern home can produce cyanide gas when they are burned. Smoke inhalation patients have been found to have elevated levels of this particular poison, which can be more effectively addressed with quick administration of a specific antidote."

After recognizing the correlation between fire incidents and cyanide exposure, the department mapped smoke inhalation patients and building fires for a three-year period. The department then isolated areas of higher occurrence and ambulance units that would typically respond to these areas. Once these two pieces of data were collected and mapped, the appropriate units were provided with cyanide antidote kits.

More Information

For more information, contact Ryan Green, City of North Las Vegas Fire Department (greenr@cityofnorthlasvegas.com).

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