Computer Saves Time and Work
The Editor’s Opinion Page
Eight years ago we published our first article on the electronic computer and its introduction to the fire service. Acceptance since then has been slow (cost has something to do with this) but steady, until today when many departments are using this most efficient administrative tool.
Understandably, only a large fire department can afford its own computer. But computers and other electronic data processing equipment (EDP) can be shared or EDP services rented. Smaller departments, therefore, can get into the act. One way is to use an EDP facility which a municipality (or a county agency) uses for all its departments.
Administration is usually the most convenient and practical place to start a fire department computer operation. Payrolls with deductions for pensions, insurance and hospitalization come readily to mind. Then there is the maintenance of running cards—multiple alarms, moveups—and an analysis of response times. Such information retrieved from a computer can be used to locate or relocate a fire station to the best advantage.
Another important function of EDP for both fire fighting and fire prevention is to provide district survey data such as the maintenance of current records of structures, occupancy, population and special hazards. Still another, and probably the most important fire department use of the computer, is in the support of fire fighting operations. Here the EDP use falls into two classes: command and control systems, and information storage and retrieving systems.
In command and control, computers can be used to receive alarms and to suggest the best unit responses to dispatchers. The computer does this by modifying the unit assignments (electronically) on the basis of availability and probability of false alarms.
Storage and retrieval systems can provide almost instant information to a chief at a fire concerning the hazards of a building or its contents, the details of a prefire plan and recommended tactics for situations involving poison gases or other unusual material and the sources of expert assistance.
EDP systems also offer side benefits including a reduction in paper work. Anything that is fed into a computer can be stored in it. The same data can be brought out in the form of a daily, monthly or annual report without being fed into the computer again. This means that reports can be produced as a byproduct of operations—reducing hours spent in digging through files and at the typewriter.
EDP is a great tool for a chief and if he hasn’t got one yet, it’s about time.