The Texas Engineering Extension Service's (TEEX) Annual Summer Fire Training School, held each July at Brayton Fire Training Field, is the most publicized and recognized 3 weeks in the training calendar. But this week, another part of the annual school program – albeit significantly smaller – is bringing emerging technologies to the forefront of firefighting.
Each March for the past 21 years, TEEX has hosted the Spring Fire Training School and, this year, a record 361 students are enrolled in the week-long event.
"In the summer, we run the traditional programs like firefighting, rescue, fire prevention and investigation – to name a few," said Harvie Cheshire, training manager of the Annual Schools Program. "In the spring, we offer more specialty courses where we go to a more advanced level. We also bring in new classes which focus on new technologies, ideas and innovations."
One of those new classes is Advanced Municipal Fire Operations, Pre-Response Information Management Exercises, or AMFO PRIME.
Mike Montgomery, the director/fire marshal for Harris County, Texas, is one of the guest instructors for the AMFO PRIME course. He's one of 61 guest instructors at TEEX's Spring School this year. According to Montgomery, pre-planning has been very important to fire departments for a long time and it allows firefighters to get familiar with buildings and structures in their response area and jurisdiction.
"Firefighters are curious," Montgomery said. "We want to know what is going on inside the building. It allows us to manage risks better if we have a better understanding of what we are getting into. When you are called to a fire at 2 a.m., it's not the ideal time to have your first experience with the building."
Traditionally, pre-planning information is stored in some sort of paper form, whether it be maps, diagrams or literally hundreds of documents to help firefighters to be aware of their surroundings.
"It seems like we have pre-planned since the beginning of time," Montgomery added. "But it has been difficult to institutionalize. The maps and files that you have to carry are too cumbersome."
And that's the problem. The solution: technology.
- Fire departments now are able to use technology to their favor by storing data on servers and accessing it through laptops or from computers in the fire engine itself.
- Digital photography can accompany the pre-plans.
- There are prepackaged and customized software to help draw building diagrams.
- Diagrams can be super-imposed onto Google Earth or MapQuest maps so firefighters know fire hydrant locations, fire department access lane locations and obstructions that may interfere with a truck's ability to get into a location. You can also mark hazardous entities on the maps – septic tanks and hazardous materials locations – to name a few.
Montgomery said the ultimate goal is to get all the information to a common clearinghouse where it would be available to all fire departments, law enforcement agencies and other first responders. In some instances, the information is becoming an integral part of a communities' emergency plan.
"Regardless of whether it's a fire, weather disaster or terrorist incident, the information is useful," Montgomery said. "The information is being gathered and stored and now it's easier to manage and be used by others."