Model and Computer Deploy Forces

Model and Computer Deploy Forces

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The Editor’s Opinion Page

Back in 1969 we went down to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington to attend a symposium on—you guessed it— The Needs of the Fire Service. And it was there that we first came across the term “model” as applied to the fire service. The model was, of course, a mathematical model, and one that had been used in Scotland for the deployment or, perhaps we should say, the redeployment of the fire forces in a large city.

At the time we weren’t too sure of just what a mathematical model was or did. We still weren’t quite sure up until a couple of weeks ago when we attended a two-day training course, “Deployment Analysis for the Fire Service,” which was conducted at the New York City Rand Institute. There we found out that “an example of such a model is the simulation model of fire department operations which is a representation inside a computer of what actually happens in the field when alarms are received, fire companies dispatched and fires put out.”

Beyond our enlightenment of what constitutes a model, we found the course highly interesting. For years, fire service allocation and deployment of resources were determined on a subjective basis with frequent disagreement among those charged with the allocating. Evidence of this lies in the changes that have been made in the ISO grading schedules on the insistence of other agencies. Now, it would seem that mathematics and an impersonal computer can eliminate a lot of the subjectivity that goes into determining, among other things, just how many companies should respond to an alarm box or how many companies a fire department should actually have.

For example, in Yonkers, N.Y., use of a simple mathematical model recently showed that the city should increase the number of engine and ladder companies dispatched on a first alarm. This reversed a policy of limited response between noon and midnight established because of an increase in false alarms.

The researchers found that the false alarm period coincided with the period in which occurred the greatest proportion of structural and other fires. Limited response, therefore, merely reduced fire protection.

Of course, mathematical modeling isn’t perfect as yet, but it is a big step in the right direction. And maybe someday a “representation inside a computer” will decide the amount of men and equipment needed to cover a certain area.

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