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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government
|Volume VII, Issue 1||January 2004|
By Mary N. Cloutier
Two years in development, BATS is a new web-based system developed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which enables public safety agencies to share information locally, and nationally. While in development, Maine fire investigators “test drove” this system by entering data of complex actual cases to ensure BATS would actually provide needed data upon completion.
Because BATS is web-based (no new hardware or software to purchase) and developed and maintained by the ATF, Maine has incurred very little expense in acquiring this system. How did Maine become one of six pilot sites? It started when Sergeant Stewart Jacobs taught at the National Fire Academy (http://www.usfa.fema.gov/), and subsequently became a resource for the development of BATS. State Fire Marshal, John C. Dean, observes “Maine fire investigators are respected nationally.” BATS is Maine’s first state-wide system and it enables fire investigators to enter and access information about investigations, which includes: origin; type of arson device used; suspects; losses; and geographic location.
Why is this so important? John Dean says, “On-line sharing of information between investigators throughout the State enables us to determine if there are similarities or patterns in cases.” “For example, arsonists leave ‘markers’, and are often mobile, and investigators from Aroostook to York Counties need access to BATS, data to collaboratively solve cases.” In addition to BATS the office collects fire data from fire departments across the state in a system known as the Maine Fire Incident Reporting System (MEFIRS).
He points out that analysis of local data nationally can also point to trends. A single TV set fire doesn’t initially seem important, but aggregated with other data via the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), it could point to a defect with a particular type/model. This data becomes increasingly valuable with time, as the database grows; particularly since state fire marshal personnel will verify the correctness of data prior to its transmission to NFIRS. (Until this month, data was entered locally into the Maine Fire Incident Reporting System, and data was returned via an “annual report” from the vendor. Not only was the data not verified from a state perspective, the Fire Marshal’s Office did not have daily on-line access to it.)
To support the MEFIRS and BATS effort, the office received a $104,000 grant from Homeland Defense funds, to purchase hardened laptops for all investigators and inspectors and a server to collect the data and connect the investigators and inspectors to their supervisors and the central office. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with ATF in September to create the Maine State Joint Arson/Explosives Task Force. Investigators will share office space in southern and northern Maine and some state fire investigators will become deputized as federal marshals. AFT will also contribute resources to support complex cases (e.g. some investigations require cranes and other heavy equipment, and the ATF National Response Team), and has appropriated funds to pay for Maine investigators’ overtime costs incurred while working on the Joint Task Force cases. Dean observes, “Success working with ATF has to do with people and their mutually respectful relationships.”
Over the years, the mission of the State Fire Marshal’s office has evolved toward more fire prevention, professional investigation and prosecution. There is very low staff turnover, and John says, “This is the best job I’ve ever had. I like the people and the work makes a big difference in the lives of Maine people.” For more information on the Office, visit http://www.maine.gov/dps/fmo/homepage.htm.
Questions? Contact State Fire Marshal John C. Dean by calling 207-624-8964 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Maine is the only pilot state. Other pilot sites include: Glendale, Arizona’s police and fire departments, Winchester, Virginia’s police department, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s fire department and Southlake, Texas’ public safety department.
 Typically arson is associated with insurance fraud, embezzlement, homicide or other crimes. Thus Maine’s fire investigators are sworn and trained police, and also must qualify as expert witnesses, in order to testify in court cases.
 For example inspections of Department of Human Services licensed facilities e.g. nursing homes, day care facilities etc., and review of construction plans and subsequent inspections of public buildings.