True Stories: IT solutions catch fire

16 Feb 2004

The Dublin Fire Brigade has been responding to emergencies in the city since 1862. Since then its role has evolved, and from its headquarters in Townsend Street in the city centre, it dispatches fire appliances from 10 different fire sub-stations within the city and county. It also manages a fleet of 10 ambulances on behalf of the Eastern Regional Health Authority.

What many people do not realise, however, is that the Townsend Street control centre is also responsible for responding to fire emergencies in Laois, Longford, Wexford and Meath and will eventually assume responsibility for all of Leinster as well as Cavan and Monaghan.

999 calls from those regions will be answered in Dublin and the appropriate fire station will be notified and an appliance dispatched. More than 130,000 requests for assistance were received during 2003 and approximately 100,000 of those required action on the fire brigade’s part.

Clearly if the service is to do its job and save lives, efficient communications are essential. The Dublin Fire Brigade uses several tools including Oak Advance, a call management system supplied and installed by Dublin-based Bandwidth Telecommunications.

“We started using the Oak solution in late 2001,” says Ian Barrett (pictured), communications manager for Dublin Fire Brigade. The software runs on a standard Windows-based PC. “The system is then connected to our PBX [public branch exchange], which is a Philips system, and records the data for each,” he explains. This data would include the number dialled for outgoing calls, the length of the call and how many times the phone rang before it was answered. “Every day the system creates a file with that day’s data and at the end of the month a larger file with all of the statistics is created,” he adds.

According to Barrett, the main benefit of the system is internal management. By analysing the reports, managers can identify patterns in calls and based on those can allocate resources effectively. “The management information we get from the system shows us how many calls are coming in, how many calls are being made, the number of emergency and non-emergency calls we are receiving and so on. We can also identify peak times and so on. We use that information to determine the appropriate response of emergency resources, dispatch resources and provide updated information to the responding resources,” he says.

“As well as that we can now ascertain the number of calls we receive in a year so that we can provide the correct number of personnel needed in our control centre to answer these calls, detail the number of ambulance calls and the number of rural calls received.”

A key advantage of the Oak system over the system it replaced is the ability to monitor more than just emergency calls. Outgoing calls, incoming administrative calls including those made directly to individual extensions are also counted as are calls between substations and the ‘yellow man’ calls.

“Each station has a fixed number of fire appliances and ambulances,” explains Barrett. “For instance, Finglas has one fire tender and one ambulance, and both might be out of the station at the same time.”

The surprising thing is that despite the benefits the Oak system has already delivered, the Dublin Fire Brigade has yet to implement all its features. “What we haven’t done yet but we plan to do is set up the pricing models to see how much money we are spending on making phone calls,” says Barrett. “What’s also not set up is caller ID, which is something we would like to have.”

It has been suggested that linking caller ID with a directory database could allow the emergency services to respond more quickly to calls by identifying the address of the person making the call. “While certainly that is possible from an engineering point of view, I would make it quite clear that we have no plans to do anything of that sort. There are legal issues of privacy and data protection that would prevent such a move,” he says. However, he points out that such protections do not apply to those making hoax calls.

Installation of the system took a matter of hours, Barrett recalls. Training required was minimal and there was no impact on those manning the control centre. “There was some training from the Bandwidth people but again that was a matter of a few hours. If you are used to using and querying databases it’s pretty straightforward,” he concludes.

By David Stewart