Saving time, lives through new technology
Editor & Publisher
And on a barrier island where many structures built decades ago when fire suppression technology was in a whole other era, Dezzi has eagerly embraced the efforts of Town Internet Technology Department Director Kathi Pletzke who recently was honored with a technology achievement award for software and an application solution above all other submissions statewide.
At the heart of the software is a database of critical information that firefighters and emergency personnel need in the field when they are dispatched.
In the past, as the Fire Department responded to an emergency, information on where they were heading and where the building’s hydrants and alarms and control panels were located resided in three-ring binders that were updated throughout the years.
The system worked, but human error as well as the additional time to access information manually were obvious impediments.
Now, in addition to all traditional fire fighting equipment such as hoses, ladders and axes, the Fire-Rescue Department has added iPads and more importantly the new software and database.
Today, when firefighters are called, they can use the iPads and a web-based application to access tactical surveys for commercial or multi-residential buildings. These surveys provide critical building safety information, such as the location of fire alarm control panels and sprinkler systems.
At the fingertips
The technology allows firefighters to formulate a plan and an approach on the way to a fire, and they’re provided with much more detail than the three-ring binders with one-page summaries.
With the iPads, they can also access interactive maps and aerial photos of each building and the location of nearby fire hydrants, color-coded for the amount of gallons they can pump per minute.
Again, the axiom: less time saves lives and property from damage.
Mayor Jim Brown is impressed with what they developed.
“All of these are efforts to better serve the community and make the Town and its services more useful. If it helps in an emergency, that is truly a major success,” said Brown.
In fact, Dezzi has found the new system has more or less revolutionized the department when it comes to efficiency. After all, having critical data on hand and available instantaneously via an iPad is the kind of pre-planning that sets Longboat apart from a department focused solely on response.
Longboat Key Fire Marshall Lou Gagliardi is also in complete synch with the new system. In a recent memo to fire personnel and the Town Manager after annual fire inspections of Longboat’s condominiums, which are Gagliardi’s specific domain, Dezzi wrote:
“I want to commend everyone on a job well done!! All preplans and all annual fire inspections were completed!
Everyone is doing a great job and we’re fixing the problems that have been building up over many years. I can say now that the buildings that we have out here on LBK are safer because of what you all are doing….making a difference!
When you find issues with a building or complex it is handled right away.
The iPads and constant communication with IT has proven to be very successful as has the Geobase Committee where address concerns are addressed. We have 59 re-inspections that we’re working on and this number has greatly decreased because the property managers and owners are working with us knowing the importance of keeping their buildings safe.
Our department is focused on prevention, something more departments should be focused on. By you all going into the buildings and seeing them in a non-emergency setting will make a BIG difference when you have to go in during an emergency…both EMS and Fire.
Thanks again for doing such a great job!!!”
For Dezzi, evolving his department comes from being better in control and better situated when an emergency arrives.
With the iPad, responders can spin an image around and look at a condo or structure from different angles and tactically decide the best way to get a 75-foot ladder truck on to the scene.
Firefighters used to perform tactical surveys and fire inspections on paper and then go back to the station to type reports. Now that is done directly on the iPads.
All these developments and innovations are the by-product of Pletzke collaborating with Dezzi and IT Department personnel working to meet the needs and demands of one of the most critical areas of the community.
Fire Chief Dezzi said many software vendors were initially researched, but it was determined the Town’s Information Technology Department could provide exactly what the Fire Department was in search of and more, at an annual cost savings.
Dezzi said the next step was personnel and end users were surveyed and asked what they needed in a software product to make their jobs easier and more efficient. Dezzi said the process of allowing personnel a “say” in making their job easier as well as seeing that both departments listened and were able to “make it happen” has increased morale and work productivity.
And the collaboration between Dezzi and Pletzke continues. Soon, the Fire Department and Information Technology will be developing an EMS patient care reporting system that will be used on emergency scenes. This product will allow paramedics the ability to produce a single document that will be shared with receiving medical facilities so continual care can be rendered.
In fact, the software and implementation system is so useful, other municipalities are calling and want to implement it as well. Pletzke has demonstrated the software to more than a dozen municipalities with more scheduled.
The concept of marketing and selling this technology to other cities is a distinct possibility. In essence, the technology was developed using Longboat tax dollars and the Town, under state law, can benefit from its investment.
While the above summery tells the story of what Pletzke and her team in the IT Department developed with Dezzi’s collaboration, what follows is the actual Q&A Pletzke completed to describe the technology in her submission for the award that the Town won.
The details and Pletzke’s word-for-word answers follow:
What business problem were you trying to solve by implementing this project/application?
The business problem we set out to solve was to make the operation of the Fire Department more efficient with existing personnel. Municipal Fire Departments have a variety of specialized functions it must perform. One is to complete annual inspections of commercial properties for safety reasons, another is to conduct ‘tactical’ surveys to document a specific locations’ hazards and safety equipment, and the third function is to manage the daily function of the department. The Fire Department and IT Management team evaluated several third-party applications from vendors and decided that none of those examined fulfilled all the requirements of the department. The development staff of the IT Department took on the task of creating customized software that met the needs of the Fire Department.
Describe the features, functionality and benefits of the project/application…
Using an iPad2, Certified Fire inspectors are conducting the inspections and electronically completing the report at the site. The report is produced along with the Fire Inspector’s digital signature and a PDF version of the report is sent via email or fax instantly to the recipient. The recipient can begin taking corrective action immediately. Not only has the system paved the way into the paperless world by sending the report electronically, but the efficiencies gained in the number of inspections conducted has risen by almost 400%! Currently, the department is completely caught up.
Tactical Survey/Fire Pre-Planning
This system allows Fire personnel to conduct their fire pre-planning inspections (separate type of inspection from annual fire inspections). Firefighters use the information from a tactical survey to document all safety systems such as fire alarm panel, sprinkler systems, hazards, electrical and gas shutoffs, access, exposures, fire hydrant locations and information, etc. The system utilizes ‘BING’ mapping to display a visual of the location. Visio Drawings of the site can also be incorporated into the file as well as other file types, such as photos in .BMP or .JPEG format. All of this information was previously only available in the Fire Trucks in a hard-copy notebook. All of the critical tactical information is now available instantly and more importantly visually, using a laptop or iPad2. Firefighters use this information when there is an emergency and they need to gain access to the site. Additional features are the ability to view the location from different angles so emergency responders could strategically maneuver a ladder truck into position and pinpoint the location with latitude and longitude coordinates. Fire hydrant location is displayed on the map by a dot; the color (blue, green or red) indicates the gallons per minute, and a user may hover over the dot to see the actual fire hydrant data. Since the Town has a completely integrated database, the Fire system receives the critical hydrant data directly from the Town’s public works database.
Fire Log Book
The Fire Log book application started out as a means to record all training for each firefighter/paramedic in the event of an ISO audit. The system records the CEU’s for each employee in addition to many other functions. The Deputy Chief begins the day by taking roll for all employees and assigning them a job. When the employee completes their task, which entails conducting a vehicle check, the system automatically grants a CEU point. Additional training sessions can be scheduled and employees are notified via email. Now when the ISO Auditor requests the training logs for various staff, the report can be produced in PDF format at the touch of a button. Fire and rescue calls from Dispatch are also displayed. All management recordkeeping previously done in the handwritten “RED Book” are now recorded electronically in the Fire Log Book. Statistical reporting is also available for management; data can be viewed in Bar Charts or spline charts or displayed on a Map.
Describe the technology used to create the application:
The technology used was a combination of tools; Redback which is a middleware product from Rocket Software (formally IBM) that makes our Unidata database open to the web, .Net version 3.0 for the browser/web user interface. BING map functionality is incorporated into the new product. We also used a forms generator called AWFORMS to produce the PDF forms and a middleware product called AWMail to produce email.
Did the project/application extend or replace an existing system? If yes, provide a description of what was accomplished.
Actually the project accomplished both. It replaced an old ‘green screen’ interface with a new browser version with added functionality using tools like BING maps. The ‘extension’ of the existing application comes from the preservation of all the historical data that has been maintained for many years. All this data is available through the new application with the new and improved “look and feel”. The integrated database underneath the application remains the same.
How has the business process been improved as a result of the project/application? Provide data that demonstrates this improvement.
The Fire Department personnel are more efficient as demonstrated by the sheer volume increase of the number of inspections and re-inspections that they were able to complete using the new system. Productivity is up 400%. Other gains are not as easily measureable yet just as impactful. Having a ‘birds eye’ view of locations when responding to an emergency, leaving behind the handwritten diaries and other paper-based tracking in exchange for electronic methods providing security and accountability as well as ISO compliancy are truly transformational.
What has been the economic benefit of the project/application (cost savings, cost avoidance, etc.?)
The most obvious economic benefit is the savings in time and the increase efficiency in staff. Cost avoidance was also a large factor. By preserving our investment in our legacy database as well as writing our own code, we were able to avoid a costly transition and data conversion to another vendor. There are other economic benefits possible with this solution that have yet to be fully explored. Other Fire departments have expressed interest in purchasing the custom-developed software. The Town has filed copyright paperwork for this software with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Who benefits from this use of the project/application?
Fire management staff, firefighters and paramedics benefit by using the system every day, but the citizens ultimately benefit from having up to date fire safety inspections, with the ability to take corrective action immediately. Prior to the new system, fire inspectors would have to return to the office, log the inspection info into the computer, print out a hard copy, have the Fire Marshal physically sign the document, then fold and place in an envelope to be sent in the regular snail mail. The property manager or business owner may not have received this report for 2-3 weeks after the initial inspection. Now the information is transmitted in an instant.
What is the current usage of the project/application and what is the population that is eligible to use it?
Fire Department staff use the system daily. There are 2 fire stations located on our island and only one electronic log book and tactical survey and inspection system. Anyone with approved security can access the system from their browser. Our Fire Department consists of approximately 30 people.
How has the project/application been marketed to end-users?
IT worked very closely with different individuals within the Fire department to develop the system. One Deputy Fire Chief and key staff worked on the tactical survey and inspection program, while another Deputy Fire Chief provided the specifications for the logbook. What has happened as a result of these 3 projects is that other ‘end-users’ in the department have stepped forward and are suggesting other processes get automated. For instance, a suggestion has been made to track the supply and medical inventory used on the trucks. Through word-of-mouth and a pleasant user experience, the system is marketing itself. Firefighters also talk to firefighters in other municipal agencies about our custom designed system, and subsequently we receive requests from other agencies for a demonstration.
Describe the project’s collaborative environment in terms of governance, funding, project management, communication and other relevant data.
Funding for the project was included as part of the IT budget for contract programming services and maintenance of all existing in-house systems. Project management was handled by the IT Director. At the time of development, the Town did not have a governance board. The Fire Chief brought a new style of leadership to the project that naturally supported a cooperative and collaborative environment. The IT Director and Fire Chief approached the project as a challenge; and formed an alliance to improve not only the department’s computer operation but also the relationship between the two departments. A unique synergy has developed as a result of IT and the Fire Department working together on these projects.