Enhance Fireground Operations with Digital Building Intelligence


The high-tech future of the fire service in which building intelligence can enhance fireground operations has arrived. More than portable radio communication is connecting the firefighters inside the building with the incident command post. Interior firefighters and Command are now in tune with how the building will react under fire conditions or other all-hazard emergencies. The emerging technology of digital buildings and core intelligence will fully empower firefighters with a tactical edge in which they will be able to look inside the building and quickly determine the floor layout, view a 3-D pathfinder for search and rescue, and employ an electronic building intelligence card (eBIC) that will advance size-up to a whole new level.

Being able to share the digital images and building intelligence eliminates the confusion that exists when the support incident command post staff are huddled around paper blueprints during a crisis situation. The firefighters no longer have to be in the same place viewing a structure, therefore, saving critical time in an emergency.

This type of building intelligence literally can be in the palm of your hands, just like a thermal imaging camera, to assist with finding fire in the walls and victims on the floor. Fireground operations will be able to access structural intelligence by way of a laptop computer, portable electronic command boards, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and a portable data appliance (PDA) for the building blueprints that have been scanned into 2-D or 3-D format. Think of the value of this system for firefighters who will have this critical infrastructure information at their fingertips.




Interior building intelligence will provide firefighters with quick access and more sound size-up information relative to how the building will react in a fire and all-hazard emergencies. Intelligence data can be pulled for the complete building or for individual sections.

The Basic Building Information section provides the address, type of occupancy, and population during the day, evenings, and weekends.

The Building Statistics section provides critical data relative to the structural support members; roof and floor assemblies; the building’s height, shape and dimensions; utility chases; and special features such as cell towers and a green roof with vegetation (Figure 1).

Figure 1. eBIC Building Statistics

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The Fire Protection Systems section features such systems as sprinklers (whether a full or partial system), standpipes and their control valves, fire alarms, fire pumps, fire extinguishing, and fire department connections (Figure 2).

Figure 2. eBIC Fire Protection Systems

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A vertical schematic (Figure 3) will quickly show the firefighters the stair risers and indicate which stairwell has a standpipe hose connection, what stairwells go to the roof and below grade, the floors an elevator car services and the floors it will bypass, the zone coverage area of the HVAC systems (Zone 1 may cover floors 1 to 6; there may be multizone coverage on a single floor, or there may be individual units per floor).

Figure 3. eBIC Vertical Schematic

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The HVAC schematic will be a particularly useful tool during fireground operations to assess fire/smoke conditions or a hazardous materials incident involving a chemical release within a building.

The Floor Occupancy section indicates the type of occupancy on each floor. This is especially helpful for multitype occupancies that may contain a mall, businesses, and restaurants all under one roof and for identifying occupants who need special assistance to evacuate during an emergency. The system indicates the floor level or area in which the person with a disability is located.

The Hazardous Materials and Location section indicates the location of the material safety data sheets (MSDS) and the type, quantity, and locations of the hazmat materials.

The ventilation data further support the HVAC system schematic relative to smoke-management system capabilities of the fire alarm panel, air intake, and the locations of mechanical equipment rooms (Figure 4).

Figure 4. eBIC Ventilation and Utilities

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The Utility section indicates the locations of the major controlling devices for natural gas, water, electric, and a redundant secondary power source such as a generator. It also indicates the vertical locations of the chases (Figure 4).




During a building reconnaissance to gather preincident intelligence, a drop-down window application from a PDA or a laptop computer can easily assist a firefighter in pulling together critical infrastructure information such as basic building information, building statistics, fire protection systems, stair risers, elevator banks, heating and ventilation systems, utilities, hazardous materials, communications, and building emergency contact information. At the end of the building assessment, the eBIC data are automatically downloaded to a department database and are readily available for an emergency response.

Besides gathering data, the PDA has fireground capability to access 2-D digital blueprints for each floor in the building. This feature makes incident data instantly accessible to the company officer within the building and the incident commander. The response times within the structure will be reduced and the situational awareness data are accurate and precise, even when an incident floor plan is opened for the first time.




Having digital building data and intelligence at firefighters’ fingertips will essentially impact the last tactical mile of situational awareness. This is a powerful force multiplier for firefighters in the field. With the click and drag of a mouse, firefighters can figure out exactly how far they have to go to rescue a victim. The digital blueprint also provides true scale measurements, even when the digital images are viewed on any size computer monitor. Digital floor plans transmitted from a large-screen desktop computing environment to a small-screen mobile device do not lose any of the true scale measurements even when the images are zoomed in or out. In addition, data set overlays on the images, such as standpipe risers, utility chases, mechanical equipment rooms, stairways, and elevator banks, provide critical infrastructure information.

Automated decision support tools, such as a 3-D pathfinder tool for rescue, allow a firefighter to click a “start point” from the base of rescue operations and an “end point” at or near the origin of the incident. The computer calculates primary, secondary, and alternate routes to the incident. The computer can recalculate this path to avoid obstacles. A Door Counter feature automatically counts the doors as the pathfinder moves through the building model, and it can measure distance and area, allowing the firefighter to measure linear distance, volume, and area measurements for a given space. A 3-D walk-through feature allows a firefighter to virtually walk through a building in 3-D while visualizing the path (Figure 5). This provides the responder with a complete building layout prior to entry. This can be recorded as a file and sent to the tactical responders on their mobile phones or PDAs.

Figure 5. 3-D Floor Layout and Stairs

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A 4-D situational awareness feature, an object-oriented building development tool, uses 3-D building modeling; 3-D geospatial technologies deliver a complete view of a building’s surroundings. They can communicate all its internal details and essential data for 2-D and 3-D visualization of buildings and automate the decision support tools that will allow firefighters to make more informed decisions, improving planning and response operations. In the building profile, the firefighter can also zoom into any floor or any part of a building and see the exact layout and important details before entering. The program allows for scaled measurements as well as key building data such as floor plans, building composition, evacuation routes, building systems, and contact information (Figure 6).

Figure 6. 4-D Situational Awareness Feature

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This new and powerful capability of 3-D digital blueprint and eBIC intelligence could also be used for police activities within a structure. For example, you could see exactly where a gunman was holding people in a building, the surrounding rooms, and the immediate floor levels above and below the hostage scene.




eBIC intelligence and the digital building with unique interior visualization features provided by 2-D and 3-D digital blueprints, along with GIS capability, give firefighters a tactical edge. Integrating critical structure data for the interior and the exterior of a building forms a more complete situational awareness package that enhances fireground operations and provides a greater degree of firefighter safety.

JACK J. MURPHY, MA, is a fire marshal (ret.)/former deputy chief of the Leonia (NJ) Fire Department. He is a licensed NJ-state fire official and has a master’s degree and several undergraduate degrees. He is vice chairman of the New York City High-Rise Fire Safety Directors Association, a member of the NFPA High-Rise Building Safety Advisory and Pre-Incident Planning Committee, and a deputy fire coordinator for the State Division of Fire Safety (Bergen Region). He is an adjunct professor for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice fire science program and for Kean University’s fire inspection recertification programs. He is the author of RICS – Rapid Incident Command System field handbooks and of the Pre-Incident Planning chapter of Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (2009). He is an editorial advisory board membeer of Fire Engineering, an FDIC advisory board member, and a Fire Department of New York honorary battalion chief.


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