Before First Due, what was your experience with Pre-planning and the availability of Pre-plans at the time of response?
Before First Due, we had a ton of pre-plans that were in paper PDF form. They were either stored in a central location in our dispatch office or copied and put into binders in the apparatus, but they weren’t really convenient enough to be out in the hands of our First Responders during calls and at times they needed that information. We have a substantial amount of mid-rise apartment buildings in Hartsdale. We had hand-written drawings of apartment complexes, but the buildings themselves can be pretty spread out with different building numbers, levels, staircases, layouts, and so on, so following a hand-written drawing of a large complex structure is confusing and time consuming to say the least. On a call, there just isn’t time to waste trying to comprehend a hand-written drawing of a multiple dwelling.
Back before First Due, we were basically going on every call blind, with limited information to go off of besides memory and the hand drawn maps. A few of our firefighters started making little binders with pictures, diagrams, and lists of information that they learned from previous incidents. It was helpful at the time, however, the response area in Hartsdale is small but dense, so our crews wouldn’t even have enough time to find the right binder with the right address before we arrived on scene.
Before First Due, we had a limited idea of what we were headed in to, and as a Captain of a Fire Department, that’s one of the last feelings you want to have.
Once you signed on with First Due, how did things change? Did you see an immediate difference in how you were able to respond?
After seeing First Due, we knew right away that we would be interested in it. We continued doing our research and started realizing that this product was designed with us in mind. Once we signed on and started going through the deployment process, we just kept finding out more and more features that were going to benefit us, with the integration of assessor data at the top of that list. As we moved into the beta testing of system, we started using First Due on a small basis, and within just a few uses we realized how much we had been missing without this tool. With First Due, we now have pictures of private dwellings, floor plans of mid-rises, we know exactly where every hydrant is, we are able to put icons on the map to show FDC’s, and even identify bridges that we can't drive over. The amount of information we realized we now had was just amazing, so it all came to a culmination before we even went live.
A moment that really sticks out in my mind is one of the calls we received during that beta testing period of the deployment. A woman calls the Fire Department to tell us her kitchen is on fire and we get dispatched. Now we’re heading up North Central Avenue and I decide to pull up First Due on the MDT, just to see what it can give me since it hasn’t gone live yet. Within a few seconds I tell my chauffeur, “hey, the hydrant is three houses past the one we’re looking for. It’s a blue house with a big pine tree in the front.” I look over at him out of the corner of my eye and he gives me this smirk, like “what the heck are you talking about?”. Then I yell back to the nozzle man and I’m explaining to him exactly what the house looks like. I told him it was a split level, splits off to the left, and the kitchen is probably straight back judging by how the birds eye view looks. When we arrived to the house, what I was looking at on First Due was an exact match to what I was looking at in real life, the only thing First Due didn’t show was the smoke coming out the front door and the landscapers and resident standing out front. The guys knew exactly where and what everything was, it was pretty incredible, it felt like a well-rehearsed dance. On top of that, the tour commander shows up, he can see exactly who the assessor’s office has on file to contact about the fire, we knew the owner, it just kept going and going. We were even able to know to look for a few missing people that had evacuated out of the back onto a deck that we knew was there from the birds eye view. The amount of information we had just for this one call was unimaginable, and it was all in our hands exactly when we needed it. After the call, we’re debriefing and I start showing off the MDT with the picture from the assessor’s office, which also had the building permits on file that showed me where the kitchen was, as well as the basic layout of the house. We haven't been on a call without First Due ever since.
As you mentioned before, assessor data is a key value to response. Are you pulling any other valuable data sources into First Due that you’re using regularly during response?
Totally. The hydrant location data came in through the County GIS and some GPS work one of our members did years ago. We then pulled in that information through our online hydrant flow test data base, so that we know the flow of hydrants and water supply sources, and that is now all available on our First Due dashboard. We’ve also been adding photos and our old handwritten floor plans and maps and attaching them to their respective addresses, so if we need it we can click on the attachment. On top of that, right now the Department of Health is sending us an ongoing and updated COVID hot list every few days that we are importing into First Due for EMS calls. This information lets us know when we’re on our way to a home that someone has tested positive, so we obviously prepare our arrival and response differently to prioritize the resident’s needs and also ensure the safety and health of our First Responders during this pandemic.
Have you been able to incorporate First Due into the training process and regimen Hartsdale Fire Department uses when responding to calls?
That's a great question. We are a pretty small Fire Department with only two fire houses, so we would normally go out into the field and survey buildings and examine our structures, talk about the hazards, where the FDC is and so forth. When not in the field, we used to go up to headquarters and sit in a classroom with a big picture of our handwritten building map up on the wall. We would draw out different situations of where the fire was and how we would respond and try to write down what process we would use. But as everyone has experienced in the last year, because of COVID we’ve unfortunately had to shut this part of our training down to follow restrictions, which obviously is not beneficial to our response. Instead of losing that value, having First Due implemented gave us the ability to take a virtual tour of any building, and has allowed us to see exactly what any situation at any location would look like. While doing that, we can go in and enter our pre-plan data – the standpipes in the stairwell, where the stairwell is, if there are balconies, where the fire escapes are, etc. First Due has definitely provided us with a great tabletop training platform that we can use in the fire house, and while teaching, we’re also entering and gaining useful data and information.
With that being said, getting our senior members to adjust and adopt a new technology-based platform was a little bit hard to do, but now that they've seen it and trained with it they've jumped right in. They have so much knowledge about our response area because they’ve been responding to calls here for 20 years. We have incorporated their old hand drawn information on top of all the new data in First Due, and by doing so we have began bridging the institutional knowledge gap between our veterans and new members. At the end of the day, that's what leads to quicker, safer, and more effective response for our community.
Overall, what are the biggest takeaways you’ve seen with implementing First Due into your agency? How do you see First Due working in the future for Hartsdale Fire Department?
The biggest thing for me is that First Due has freed up my mental capacity as a boss. I don’t have to think “alright, I’m going to 27 NorthCentral Avenue, is that a five story? Is that a seven story? Is that a nine story?” Instead, I can look right into the computer that’s right in front of me and know in an instant that it’s a seven story, great, now I remember. Before, we were still able to make quick, actionable, and successful decisions at the time of response, but First Due has given us a jump start in every aspect of those decisions, and at the end of the day, that jumpstart is what saves lives.
Speaking futuristically, I want us to continue data entry.It’s proven to us the difference it makes in our response, so the value I see in continuing that is unbeatable. With all the integration capability First Due has, I also want to focus on making a more seamless connection with our dispatch as we ramp up the data entry. I also want us to dive further into building inspections. Our building inspection program was paused due to COVID, but once that is up and running again, I am excited to see how First Due can help streamline that process for us. Overall, I want us to expand our use of everything that is already offered by First Due.
Seeing the difference in our operation due to the First Due products we have implemented has me looking forward to what else we can utilize. We are always looking for ways to continue improving our operation, and First Due is the next step in doing so.