Application turns radio into a fireground accountability tool – and more
It adds those key functions to a device firefighters already carry and protect
Sponsored by Motorola Solutions
By FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff
The National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOSH) has investigated firefighter fatalities for decades. From these investigative reports, NIOSH has repeatedly cited five factors as contributing to line-of-duty deaths (LODDs):
- Lack of incident command.
- Poor risk/benefit model.
- Not following SOPs.
- Lack of personnel accountability.
- Inadequate communications.
The issue of personnel accountability on dangerous emergency scenes has always been a concern to the fire service. It’s a complex problem not easily solved – but part of the answer may be as close as the firefighter’s radio.
Taking advantage of an essential tool every firefighter carries and protects, Systems Definition, Inc. (SDI) – a developer of software for first responders, government and commercial clients – partnered with Motorola Solutions, leveraging its line of APX radios, to develop the APX Personnel Accountability Application (APAA).
The software lets incident commanders know at a glance who’s responded to an incident, simplifies roll calls and PAR checks, and facilitates tactical alert messaging for urgent communications. All these capabilities can be easily managed from a single screen. For firefighters it provides simple push-to-talk responses to check-ins and alerts and an easy-access mayday button for emergencies.
Radios are unique identifiers
APAA and related software technologies grew out of SDI development efforts begun more than 15 years ago, working with the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) to address fireground safety and accountability. SDI at the time was investigating applying radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies and had developed the “EBF-4” electronic riding list for FDNY.
“Our initial idea was to just stick an RFID tag in the bunker coat,” recalled SDI’s president, Frank Briese. “The main requirement was, ‘Tell me who gets on and off the rig.’ The paper ride lists being used were not easy to update, often resulting in outdated information about who was actually working.”
RFID technologies and implementation had their own set of problems. On hot days, firefighters might shed their turnout coats, and thus their RFID tags with them. But what Briese and his colleagues realized was that every firefighter carried a radio with its own unique ID and signature. Thus, integrated rostering data with radio ID information could be linked to individuals. They consequently turned their focus to how the radios could be used as an accountability tool.
An early version of the software focused on PTT IDs and capturing and handling mayday messages. Motorola Solutions personnel in New York City saw the solution, which led to a partnership between Motorola Solutions and SDI. “We wanted a solution that was easier and more streamlined, using a tool every firefighter carries,” said Motorola Solutions’ Mike Cipolla. “For our customers using APX radios, it’s easy to add and will help them a lot in the field.”
APAA users today can do a lot more than users of that early prototype.
Start with incident commanders. From a single interface on their laptop or tablet, they can see who’s on scene and how long they’ve been working. They can conduct checks, make announcements, and control personnel groupings and assignments. They can automatically add firefighters to groups or switch them dynamically. Accountability information is visible to incident commanders on-scene and can also be shared with dispatch in trunked system environments.
One of the APAA’s key functions is simplified tactical alerts. Commanders can quickly send up to 16 different preconfigured messages, including evacuation orders, to one, some, or all firefighters. Recipients get both visual and audio notifications in the radio and remote speaker microphone and can acknowledge them with a simple button push. This greatly reduces radio chatter and simplifies how firefighters respond to roll calls.
The fire service has long struggled with issues related to personnel accountability on the fireground. Manual systems such as Velcro tags, magnet boards and paper ride lists are antiquated, require manual inputs, and take time to manage. One of the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation’s 16 life safety initiatives calls for the fire service to “utilize available technology wherever it can produce higher levels of health and safety.” These initiatives were written nearly 20 years ago, yet few technologies have evolved to help incident commanders solve these challenges.
Leveraging the technology available in Motorola Solutions’ line of APX radios, SDI’s personnel accountability solution can identify who is on the scene, handle their emergencies more nimbly and provide overall situational awareness of first responders and their radio communications on the fireground.
A solution that’s streamlined
Adding these capabilities to firefighters’ radios not only protects their lives and safety but streamlines important fireground processes and reduces the potential for vital steps to be missed.
“When you look at manual accountability systems, they require time and effort to manage, which are often at a premium,” said Bryant Krizik, a veteran fire chief and paramedic who worked with SDI to develop features and capabilities in the accountability solution. “Companies have to walk up with their passport and provide it to the incident commander. That may not always happen. And especially when we’re dealing with mutual aid, we may have no idea who’s coming in on the engine from the next town. If the roof comes down, we have to quickly determine how many people are in there and who they are.
“There can be lots of gaps in manual systems,” added Krizik. “But when you minimize the number of things you ask firefighters to do or carry, they’re more likely to participate.”
Firefighters know the radio can be their lifeline if conditions turn, and for firefighters working in departments that have deployed SDI’s APX Personnel Accountability Application, simply turning on their radios registers them on scene and gives commanders detailed insight into their activities.
Depending on configuration, automatic man-down alerts can be enabled. An on-board accelerometer tracks motion and orientation. If a firefighter is horizontal or motionless for a certain length of time, the radio sends an automatic mayday alert. Firefighters themselves can send maydays with a simple button push, and a new feature enables incident commanders to transmit a message to firefighters’ radios that puts them into mayday mode (e.g., if a firefighter does not respond to roll calls). All critical information related to the mayday is logged.
As the first two-way radio designed for personnel safety in extreme environments, Motorola Solutions’ APX portable radios provide top-class audio and advanced ergonomics, including a novel T-grip design, large, easily operable knobs, and a top display for easy information access.
‘These are things we need to address’
When firefighters are hurt and killed on the job, communications and accountability are usually among the contributing factors. “What this application does,” said Krizik, “is plug holes in those two spots.”
Among the early adopters of the APX Personnel Accountability App, one big-city U.S. fire department noted an immediate insight into this startling fact: At typical incidents, often half of its personnel either weren’t on the correct channel or had their radios powered off.
APAA helps department leadership address this type of operational shortfall. “Now that they have this tool, they have a way to quickly identify whether a firefighter has a radio on and is in the right talk group,” said Krizik. “Not only can firefighters’ radios be steered onto the correct channel, but the firefighter doesn’t even have to touch it.”
Personnel accountability at incidents present inherent challenges. “How do you even know who’s there and what they’re doing? So, there are questions about how you conduct PAR checks and manage maydays and multiple maydays,” Krizik added. “The application solves the problem of how quickly we can get that set up. These are things we need to address as incident commanders, but a lot of fire departments don’t have good answers to it.”
For more information, visit Motorola Solutions.
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