Fire services, like most other public bodies, are awash with data. This data comes from sensors on equipment and fire engines and should be collected, integrated and used more effectively to give fire fighters (and the public) the information they need in real time.
Fire departments fight fires, but they also deal with an awful lot of other incidents. Often this is by virtue of being the only ones with the training and tools to get the job done. On route to an incident in a large city, they may have an average of around four minutes to prepare for what they are likely to encounter when they arrive.
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Data comes to them from multiple sources simultaneously – radio contact from the control room, alerts via mobile devices and tablets, a touch screen information panel mounted in the response vehicle, or a mountain of technical manuals and literature on firefighting regulations and procedure.
Now, forward-thinking fire services are looking at how this information can be best used to make sure that firefighters arrive at the scene fully equipped not just with the right tools, but the right data to get the job done.
Bart Van Leeuwen, a senior firefighter with the City of Amsterdam Fire Department, who also runs the data consultancy Netage, says “What I’m afraid of is that something will happen to me or one of my colleagues and we will find out that we had the data to stop it happening.
“Unfortunately, I’ve come across several cases where firefighters were sent into blazes and it was later found that they had no business being there – but they didn’t know that because they didn’t have access to the data.”
For around seven years Bart has championed the use of “linked data” in firefighting. The concept is not just that fire departments be collecting as much data as possible through the technology which is becoming available – for example Internet of Things sensors attached to firefighting tools like engines and pumps.
Also, Van Leeuwen believes, as much of this data as possible should be made available in an open and readable format to the public, so creative minds will devise life-saving new applications.