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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government
|Volume VII, Issue 10||October 2004|
By Vicki Schmidt
On a sunny winter afternoon four snowmobilers cross a frozen lake. From shore, a homeowner watched in horror as one by one they disappeared through the ice. Moments later pagers and radios called firefighters and rescue workers into action. As units responded, radio traffic requested an iceboat. Dispatchers questioned where they might find one. Too many minutes later they learned the nearest iceboat was over an hour away.
Firefighters and rescue workers, especially those involved with incident management, are well aware that the first few minutes of a call determine its outcome. A typical "room and contents fire" (the beginning of most house fires) reaches flashover within seven to ten minutes of ignition, and occupants who have not already escaped are not likely to survive. Likewise, a vehicle accident victim will begin to suffer brain damage if deprived of oxygen for more than six minutes.
Low angle rescue teams work on slopes of less than 30 degrees. Vehicles that have flipped over embankments or down into shallow gullies often require low angle rescue teams and the mechanical advantage skills they provide. Author Vicki Schmidt and her colleagues.
The negative effect of lapsed time cannot be overestimated. As fire and Emergency Medical Services department services expand, the importance of geographical information systems (GIS) is becoming widely recognized. Combined with computer-aided dispatch (CAD), E9-1-1 has helped first responders respond more efficiently. Using E9-1-1, dispatchers can provide specific road names and property numbers, and can often clarify directions, or give alternative routes.
Though many towns are several years away from having mobile GIS programs for incident management, there is immediate value for GIS programs with regards to preplanning and utilizing GIS for response logistics. This is especially valuable for mutual and automatic aid training programs. Several Maine towns have established a water resources database, complete with photos of hydrants and drafting sites, as well as seasonal conditions, hydrant capacity and access information. GIS is also being actively used to identify geographical voids in resource coverage, such as 4WD vehicles for off-road rescues or wild land fires, and for locations of ice-boats and specialty trained cold water rescue teams.
Sharing maps and databases can also help mutual aid towns know:
Rivers and streams can provide valuable water drafting sites (to fight fires), but can also be deadly hazards or time costly obstacles if bridge crossings are distant, or if their waters require specialty angle or swift water rescue skills. Tarred roads can make incident sites easily accessible, but traffic "choke points" will hamper delivery of equipment and responders if the areas cannot be identified and avoided.
The first step toward establishing useful data for your towns fire and rescue department is identifying what resources might be needed. Dangerous locations, such as elevators, high-voltage areas, propane tanks, and medical oxygen, also need to be identified and either mitigated or avoided. Towns that have implemented E9-1-1 can establish response information based on address data combined with geocoding services available with most GIS software packages. Data that cannot be gleaned from existing resources, such as tax maps, blueprints, or preplans, are candidates for GPS (global positioning system) collection. At less than $150 for an entry-level unit, GPS is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to compile location specific data.
Base data, such as transportation routes, contours, rivers etc., is generally available from the Maine Office of GIS (MEGIS). Base data from MEGIS is usually town specific and may not be applicable for firefighting and EMS response until coordination with neighboring towns or other state and regional GIS officials takes place. Regional planning commissions, county emergency management agencies, and local universities may also help coordinate fire and response resource data.
One often overlooked, but vitally important, piece of the GIS readiness and response challenge is staffing. Computer savvy and an ability to comprehend spatial relationships are important qualities when considering who should be responsible for GIS activities. Emergency management GIS staff need not be first responders, but a working understanding of fire and emergency management response protocol will certainly complement the implementation of a successful fire and EMS based GIS program.
PIPS Pre-Incident Plan System
GIS & NFIRS Data Tutorial
GIS Technology in the Fire Service
Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis
Vicki Schmidt is a firefighter for the Buckfield Fire Department. She is also a State Fire Instructor, and is an active participant with the Frandford Mutual Aid Fire Training Association. A University of Maine at Farmington graduate, Vicki Schmidt is also a GIS Environmental Specialist III with the Bureau of Land and Water Quality at DEP.