Responding With The Right Information

By: Bradley Martinez and Firefighter Steve Netzel

Carol Stream Fire Protection District

An Interview on Carol Stream Fire’s Use of Digital Response Tools in the Field

Good information is critical for firefighters to stay safe and make good decisions.  On the flip side, lack of information can be extremely dangerous. 

When discussing lack of response information with Chiefs, we hear the same points of friction over and over: the information is hard to get to, we don’t have enough time, gathering and updating the information is too time consuming, and ultimately, they all end with the same result:

Firefighters end up responding without all the information

Every Chief we know would agree more information is better; maybe that one piece of information makes a huge difference or even saves a life.

Carol Stream Fire, IL, is doing an amazing job of getting more information to their firefighters, and they are doing it using FlowMSP.  Here is a little background:

Location: Village of Carol Stream, IL
54 career firefighters | 3 stations
FlowMSP Customer since June 1, 2019
Large Industrial Area with Frequent Small Fires

We had a chance to sit down with FF Steve Netzel, who has been running the pre-plan team at Carol Stream Fire for several years, and is the FlowMSP project manager for the fire department.

Here are some of his thoughts on using information as a tool to be faster, smarter, more efficient, and confident in response:

FlowMSP:  With 13 fire departments using FlowMSP in DuPage County, and your auto-aid partners using Flow, have you found use for our mutual aid data sharing?

FF Netzel:  [Mutual Aid] Hydrant information is huge. Seeing out of district hydrant information is very beneficial. The more towns that we get uploaded is helping us out. What’s nice about that is, that’s information you guys upload with their initial package,… so even if they are not quick on getting all their building information in, we at least get that hydrant information right away, which is nice.  Hanover [Park Fire] has had this program for a while now, and I would have to say that we use their information the most…  because they have more uploaded in Flow.

The big thing that Hanover Park [Fire] does is they take aerial photos, all four sides, which is really nice to have that, and we use that for training a lot, so if we go to a fire or mutual aid call in Hanover Park, being able to see those pictures up right away, you know exactly what you’re looking for when you get to that building, the drivers know exactly what the front of that building looks like, because when you are going out of town you are not used to those buildings, you haven’t seen those buildings, you haven’t driven past those buildings, so you’re completely unaware what they look like, so just having that front view of that building… So, when you get close, you’re not really looking for street signs, or addresses, more than you’re looking for that actual building, which is way easier to look for than three or four numbers on a building that is a hundred feet away from the street.

FlowMSP:  How often are you and other members of Carol Stream Fire using FlowMSP?

FF Netzel:  The drivers are pretty much always using it.  When it comes to the routing and mapping, our [Mobile CAD mapping] isn’t super user friendly, and very few guys actually use that mapping system, and we are pretty much strictly on Flow for the driver for directions.  The lieutenants, guys in the right seat, are using it way more for commercial and multi-family buildings, and that would be for every one we go to…  for fire related calls.  They might not look at it for a medical call to those buildings, but sometimes we do…  A lot of times for commercial buildings, they will send us to a door number, and on the pre-plan drawings we have door numbers marked, so a lot of times we’ll have to pull up that pre-plan drawing, even on medical calls, so we go to the right doors.

I would say drivers are using it on every call, and the Lts are using it on 80-90% of the calls, with exception to the single-family houses where the driver knows where he’s going, and there’s really no pre-plan data for that house.

FlowMSP:  Does FlowMSP save you time when responding to calls compared with what you were doing previously?

FF Netzel:  Yes. When it comes to in-town (in-district)… I would say 15 to 20 seconds, and when you are talking out-of-town calls, it’s even more. 

It’s 30-45 seconds [out-of-town] just because, with our old program, we didn’t have an ability to get directions outside of our district, so we would have to jump on Google maps, type it all in [the address], and then use those directions.  Where now with Flow, that driver is able to just to hit that dispatch, pull it right up, and get those turn-by-turn directions right away, so he’s pushing out way faster. I would say 20 seconds when we are in-district … and up to 30-45 seconds getting out the door [out-of-district], and that’s mostly from getting in the rig to getting out the door.

FlowMSP:  In your first year as a customer, what are you seeing with Flow that has been impactful?

FF Netzel: Mostly it’s the LT’s and driver and their comfort level with the Carol Stream building information… The platform makes it much easier to view, as a group, and that’s helping us speed up our response times. We use it for training almost on a daily basis, where we will go to a call, and come back and actually take a look at that building all together, and talk about different strategies and tactics we would use for that building if something else was going on. 

It also really helped the pre-plan team, and uploading updated information.  Before, I would have to go out to every apparatus and load in new information that was updated to every computer. Now that it’s web-based, that workflow for the pre-plan team is so much faster, and the companies are getting that information way quicker. Now they are getting it on the day, the hour, the minute that I update it. 

FlowMSP:  You mentioned having used FlowMSP on several fires since becoming a customer.  How have you used Flow to make improvements to your response workflow other than more easily tagging hydrants?

FF Netzel:  Let’s start with residential. What we are trying to do is, everyone who is installing solar panels on their roofs has to report the new construction to us and have a photo of those solar panels, because that’s good information for us. Let’s say it’s snowy out, and you might not be able to see that roof 100%, you would like to know if there’s solar panels before you’re going up there.

Commercial and multi-family buildings, we really use it in a fire setting, and what we use it for is locating utilities, so if they need to shut-off gas or electric, that command can send that company to exactly the spot.  They don’t want to say, “hey, go find the gas meter and go shut it off.”  They can say, “hey it’s located on the west side of the building in the rear, you guys please go shut that gas off.”  Information like that is used by command now, more often than not, and it’s mostly when they are already on-scene working that fire, they can pull up Flow, pull up that pre-plan, and be able to look at that information. 

Another thing [for commercial and multi-family buildings] would be roof access.  A lot of time we have to look into an attic for multi-families, or get up to the roof in commercial buildings, to look at any kind of HVAC units and information like that, so it’s very beneficial for us to know that kind of information without having to actually find a utility guy that works there.  Finding those roof accesses is not always easy, because it involves walking around the building, until you find it at the last spot you have to go look.

The last thing is hazardous materials. This is the one that Command would be looking at on the way … and notice that this [industrial or commercial building] has a very high hazard rating for a certain type of material, so they have that in their mindset. So when the first companies arrive on-scene with their size-ups, [they are] thinking about whether this hazardous material may be involved, and what’s my response going to be to that: Do I need to call more people in because of it?  Do I need to set-up an evacuation zone? 

FlowMSP:  What improved for Carol Stream Fire in terms of workflow after becoming a Flow customer?

FF Netzel:  The workflow for the driver and LT is much quicker … before there would be a lot of talking about where they want positioning to be, which way we are going to the call, where the fire alarm panels are, where the utilities are … that was taking quite a while to get all that information passed between the LT and driver, where I think now that we both have Flow … we are on both looking at the same maps, and can easily get to the information, so we are both on the same page.

It’s also giving the LT’s way more information, quicker … with our old program, you had to press five or six buttons to get to a pre-plan drawing, then hit five or six to get back to the directions or to a satellite image of the building, or just to the building information. With Flow, they’ve been able to get all the information much quicker, where it didn’t take them all the way to the call to get the information, they can do it before we are even rolling out the door.

FlowMSP:  What kind of buy-in have you seen from the companies? Has it been hard to sell them on using Flow? How often do they use FlowMSP?

FF Netzel:  If you have been around fire service at all for very long, you know that any kind of change comes with some challenges.  It was a little bit hard at first, coming with this new information. Guys kind of had some push back, but once they really started using it, and seeing how much more information they can get more easily, I think they started buying in.  And I think part of that was that it was Google-based … Guys are using Google almost on a daily basis at home and information like that, so it was very easy to transition them into that, because everything looked very similar to them, just based on using Google before. 

The other thing that [made it] easier to make the change was because it was a significant upgrade from what we had before. And so guys were really starting to realize how much things had gotten better in the past 20 years … They were happy with way less clicking, that it was way easier to get to certain items, like pre-plan information, building information, that there were no long procedures to get to that information. And when you’re bouncing down the road you don’t want to have to click 5 different times, because … sometimes you misclick.  It’s a lot easier when it’s only one or two clicks away. 

The group that has the harder time is the guys that have been around longest … Those are the ones I have had to work with more, explaining things, talking about how to get to things quicker, and troubleshoot … but those guys have come around and they start to use it, and once, of course, they have gotten used to it now, they are not complaining anymore.

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