Blazing the Way

Many new fire service products are unveiled each year, but few stand out as innovative. One of the most important aspects in creating a good product: making it user-friendly. The people at Fire Planning Associates (FPA) have achieved this with Blazemark, a new preplanning software program.

As a former fire chief and officer, I know the most important thing officers need when responding to fires is up-to-date information about the building and the area. Blazemark allows you to create preplans for your response district based on NFPA 1620 and ISO? criteria; these plans meet National Fire Academy standards for Incident Command and National Incident Management System standards.

According to Bart Krauss, one of the principals of FPA, Blazemark’s preplanning methodology is based on some simple concepts. “The plan needs to be accessible en route during a response. It needs to be easily understood in the cab of an apparatus or command vehicle, and certain critical information must be communicated during dispatch especially if the incident is scaling up,” he says.

The software must also be easy to master. “Our pre-planning software is designed to be prioritized so it can be phased-in and communicated to members as part of a drill, using digital photos and tags to highlight key pieces of information,” Krauss says. “The plans clearly illustrate areas of concern for firefighters and officers as they respond and arrive at the preplanned building.”

During an incident, Blazemark gives you the ability to retrieve data from a pre-incident plan and identify critical factors affecting the outcome of the incident. The incident commander (IC) can also use the information Blazemark captures to anticipate various scenarios and develop tactical options. After an incident, you can use the plans to review the fire and evaluate the plans’ effectiveness, making changes as needed.

An added bonus: The software is tied into FPA’s dedicated server, not an outside company, making it much more secure. Krauss says the company hasn’t had any problems with software downtime.
Blazemark can be used on PCs, Macs and PDAs or Tablet PCs. To access plans from your vehicle, you can use a password to access the server through a wireless connection. Or you can preload the designed plans onto your vehicle computers so anyone in the officer’s seat or command vehicle can access them.

After testing Blazemark myself, I can report that the company’s claims about the software aren’t just hype. I took a predetermined data set and created a preplan using the software’s easy plug-ins. Blazemark really works and it’s definitely user-friendly. Using Blazemark, you can design plans not only for target hazards such as commercial buildings, but also for other buildings that present significant life-safety hazards, such as churches, malls, healthcare facilities, schools and so on.

You can make the pre-plans as simple or as complex as you want. Multiple pages store plot plans and photos; the locations of fire protection features such as hydrants and sprinkler shutoffs; and building and roof construction information. A special section allows you to identify hazmat concerns and access related information from the Emergency Response Guide, the Chemical Hazards Response Information System (CHRIS) manual and the North American Guidebook, while another page stores life-safety concerns.

Another great feature: While you’re responding, you can click on a Quick Action Plan feature to access basic information such as the address, building construction details and locations of fire hydrants. When you arrive at the scene, you can switch to a more detailed plan that highlights in-depth building construction, roof construction, life-safety features and hazmat locations.

What I like best about Blazemark: It’s probably one of the easiest-to-use fire-service software packages on the market today. For the faint of heart, FPA’s certified, experienced fire protection engineers, fire instructors, chief fire/rescue officers and computer software experts will come to your district and review your response area map books, township listings and community mailing lists to determine the target hazards and help you design the preplans. But you don’t have to be a computer expert to use Blazemark; with just a little direction you can get involved and do it yourself.

The only possible drawback I can see to this product: cost, which varies depending on the services for which you contract with FPA. Although the advantages the product gives officers on the fireground makes the cost worthwhile, it may still be too high for smaller departments or those with limited software budgets.

If you’re planning your fire district’s budget for new computer software, take a look at Blazemark. This is a high-quality product that’s sure to enhance firefighter safety on the fireground.

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