Pilot Program Finds Never Seen Before Data for Topeka Fire Department

The fire department can use the information to tailor fire prevention programs to specific areas or populations of the city.
(Topeka Fire Department)

Average age of homes, population density, vacant homes and demographics

Blaise Mesa, The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.

(MCT)

Apr. 11–The average home in Topeka is old enough to be put on the national register of historic places, with the average one being built in 1965.

This was one of the many statistics Alan Stahl, public education officer with the Topeka Fire Department, presented to The Topeka Capital-Journal when providing a glimpse at Topeka’s community risk assessment.

The assessment is a website that shows the average age of homes, population density, vacant homes and demographics of the area along with other information. The website isn’t yet available to the public, but Stahl gave The Capital-Journal a sneak peek.

The Topeka Fire Department is one of 200 departments nationwide to participate in the National Fire Protection Association’s second phase of a pilot program mapping out community risk.

Stahl said the website can provide the Topeka Fire Department with information it has never had before.

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He said the department has always known the downtown area can pose a great fire risk because it is a “swell population.” Not as many people live there, but over 18,000 people drive down to work every day.

“You kind of know that as a fire department, but to be able to look at the actual number of people that is in that downtown zone … that is a really big thing,” Stahl said.

The fire department can use the information to tailor fire prevention programs to specific areas or populations of the city.

Stahl said the website shows the location of Latino populations in Topeka. Stahl said the cultural differences in cooking might require the fire department to invest resources in that area.

Council member Christina Valdivia-Alcalà¡ said she is excited by the potential the website poses but said the city needs to ensure everyone has access to the information.

“It all comes back to the same thing, what are we doing in our (neighborhood improvement associations), how are we educating our communities beyond social media,” she said.

Valdivia-Alcalà¡ said some homes in her district might be 90 years old and aren’t as fire-proof as newer construction. She said those residents need to learn the risks their individual homes present so they can stay safe.

That can be as simple as programs teaching best practices with smoke detectors.

The fire department will use the website to help with fire prevention, but Stahl said the website could also be used by members of city council to aid in discussions on a new fire station location.

He said the website wasn’t created for that purpose and just happened to come out around the same time Topeka began reviewing fire service.

City council started discussions on this topic Tuesday night after it received recommendations from the fire commission. City council haven’t yet taken action on a new fire station.

The website won’t be open to the public until the fall, Stahl said, but the data will be available to council members sooner. He said the pilot program hosting the website recommended the page be kept private, so there is more time to work through and discover any issues it might have.

The website uses U.S. Census information to create its data points.

Valdivia-Alcalà¡ said the website will be crucial during these conversations. She also looks forward to the completion of a county study that will determine what type of fire hazards pass through Topeka on I-70 or through the railways.

Once that study is complete, the information will be added to the community risk assessment website.

“All of it is interwoven,” Valdivia-Alcalà¡ said, “I don’t think you can take just one piece out and look at it.”

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