Throughout your time in the fire service, how has software played a part in your career, and what led you to finding First Due?
I’ve been at Roberts Park since the days of software reps stopping by the firehouse with a box of donuts! When I took over from a previous administration, we had been using Firehouse software for over twenty years. Software has changed immensely in that timeframe, but up until we found First Due, we never swayed away from Firehouse. Once we lost the ability to do EMS reporting with them, it was time to move on. We felt as though we were getting lost in the mix, weren’t sure what our future held with them, and we didn’t have a justified answer of where we were headed, so we started looking around. I found First Due on a search and had heard a lot about their pre-planning piece. Right from the start, I could see the progression First Due was making and could tell they were headed in the direction we wanted to go. We were excited to come on board after seeing the alignment of our goals and the relationship we had made with the team already.
Can you explain what you mean by “First Due was headed in the right direction” based on what you have seen in the Fire Service and how that impacted your decision making process?
The first thing I saw that made me think First Due was headed in the right direction was the ability to bring our EMS back together with our incident reporting. The pre-planning and fire prevention piece was also huge to me because that’s a big part of my role here. Before First Due, our pre-plans lived in a book in the back of the Battalion Chief car that we updated once a year. They would drill us to have sessions on it and keep it up to date, but we rarely even used it on calls. The other reason I could tell First Due was running in the right direction was because we were also in the process of changing dispatch centers. This was a huge technology jump for us, and I mean huge. We didn’t even have computers in our rigs, we just operated over the radio. As we were going through this transition, I knew First Due would be able to tie everything together for us.
Let’s talk about use in the field. Can you tell us any particular stories of incidents where you have used First Due Pre-planning?
Yes, I have one recent one that really stands out. We had a brand new company officer who had not acted on an active fire yet. The call came in in the afternoon. People were out on the street, and it was time to move. Location played a huge part in this because our district is split by a tollway, so if we go the wrong way out of the station, we could end up on one side of the tollway or the other. If we end up on the wrong side because we assumed the address was north or south of the tollway, our response time could be doubled or even tripled. We had just had the MDTs installed in the rigs when the call came in, so we weren’t fully using them yet, but our new company officer had a tablet in his hand. The call came through on First Due, popped up on the tablet, and mapped him correctly to the south side of the tollway. He also used the pre-plan dashboard to get a view of the house. This was a single residential home, which is typically something we would never have data on. With those types of structures, we would normally just use our general knowledge of the district to respond. Since First Due pulled all our county data, we had access to so much quick information we had never had before. Our new officer could see the picture of the house, had all the data in front of him and knew exactly what he was going into, which after the call posed as an incredible piece of training for him. He came up to me and explained that he had been trying to follow the process and how we do everything, but with First Due he could easily see what we were doing and how things were working. For me, it was a relief to see that this new system is not only working but helping all of us learn and be safer and better at our job.
That’s so great to hear. Would you say your officers and firefighters, especially those newer to the job have more confidence when responding with First Due? What is the impact of having that information for your crew from a leadership perspective?
Absolutely. I feel in this specific circumstance our new fire officer was much better prepared. He went into the situation being able to see the building, having a view of the hydrants, and what lines are coming off the rig so that he could envision what all that will look like before he got there. It gave him the time and resources to plan his response rather than going in blind. That makes a huge difference for any response, but especially when you are newer on the job. In a way, it allows us to start responding before we even get to the scene, which makes a bigger impact than anyone can imagine – for us and for those who we are responding to.
The other part of the impact First Due is having, is that I have complete buy-in from my entire department. Honestly, probably more buy in than I thought. Our crews are so on track with starting pre-plans and the training officers can use First Due as an assignment for them to go out and pre-plan businesses, and then they receive immediate feedback because we can all operate and have access to the system. They are all really on top of it and keep me on my toes, which is exactly the situation I want to be in.
As far as utilizing the rest of the First Due suite, where are you at with the other modules and what are your hopes for using the product in the future?
I would say in addition to pre-planning, inspections is completely hitting things out of the park for me. As the Chief, fire prevention is a huge part of my job, and I am so impressed with the way my inspection process is going. When I leave the site of the inspection, it’s done. The report is emailed to me, to the building department, to the occupant and building owner. When I come back to the office, I don’t have to sit down to do another report. It’s unbelievable.
As far as the other modules, Assets & Inventory is a work in progress. We have a lot of items where we have the company buy in and the excitement to get our daily checks incorporated in there, so that is our next project. We have been using scheduling since day one, but we have full-time and part-time staff, and a lot of different rules depending on if we have our union firefighters collecting bargaining agreements, so our scheduling process is a little more difficult. One of our other challenges with scheduling is the filling of overtime, so we are working to tie all of that together in First Due. I have had discussions with our First Due Client Success Manager, and I know a huge goal for the First Due Product Team is for the Scheduling module to be able to easily encompass any type of agency, whether it’s a full-time professional department or a small volunteer agency. I am looking forward to tackling that as the product enhances.
The next biggest piece I am excited about is Community Connect. Now that our CAD interface is up and solid, we have began slowly pushing the word out about this program. We are ready to move forward in full force on our end through social media, City Council and Chamber of Commerce meetings, senior care meetings and so on. The members on board of the fire district here are very excited about the community piece, and they see it as a great way to give back to our community and be able to offer them something of value. Now that we have worked with the First Due marketing team to get our program up and running, we are ready to engage the community full speed ahead. Even better, we are also ready to keep pushing full speed ahead with the rest of the First Due suite. We have some exciting times ahead.