When Chief Anthony Stowers took the helm at the Maynard Fire Department in 2012, he was charged with the task of putting together a strategic and capital plan for the next twenty years. To provide the best possible service to the community in the most efficient way possible, Chief Stowers was determined to operate his department in accordance with best practices. Thus, the strategic plan calls for Maynard to join the ranks of the 200 departments out of more than 28,000 in the United States that are accredited by the CPSE. The first step to seeking accreditation? Acquiring a comprehensive records management system.
Records Management Challenges
Modern fire departments collect, manage, report and refer to a tremendous amount of information during their day-to-day operations. To operate efficiently, this information needs to be readily accessible. “When I first started, there was a row of file cabinets along the back wall of my office,” says Chief Stowers. “That was our records management system.”
Some of the department’s records were kept in filing cabinets, while others could be found on one computer or another. “It just wasn’t a good way to manage the information that we have coming in,” says Chief Stowers, “and we have a lot of information coming in—inspections, permits, training, maintenance and financial records. We weren’t doing much pre-fire planning because we had no place to store the information so it was accessible. And we’ve been using two separate systems for NFIRS and NEMSIS reporting. We need information to be readily accessible and we need one central place to manage all of the information.”
The Strategic Plan called for a records management system to be implemented in 2014. But shortly after the plan was completed, Chief Stowers heard about a local company that was building a records management system specifically for fire departments. “I’ve used a couple of other systems out there and found them to be cumbersome. There’s no communication between modules. If you have to put the same information into the system multiple times, it’s just not going to be effective and people are going to make mistakes,” says Chief Stowers. “So when the opportunity presented itself to help StationSmarts build a records management system from the ground up, I jumped at it.”
The Maynard Fire Department serves a population of approximately 10,100 residents. Its mission is to protect the lives and property of the citizens and visitors of Maynard from disasters both natural and man-made with compassion, motivation, teamwork, commitment and quality fire protection and education.
- 1 Full-Time Chief
- 1 Full-Time Administrative Assistant
- 4 Full-Time Captains
- 16 Full-Time Firefighters
- 2 On-Call Firefighters
The Maynard Fire Department partnered with StationSmarts during the summer of 2013. Chief Stowers intends to seek accreditation from the CPSE, so the first priority was to create a training module that would track training initiatives and was aligned with best practices and established standards. The second priority was to create a simple way to conduct consistent inspections from a mobile device. The third priority was to develop a robust and customizable way to track daily activities so department workflow and impact could be easily demonstrated.
1. Continuous Improvement through Training
“Your training runs your department,” says Chief Stowers. “It dictates what your mission is and how you carry out your mission. If we don’t train our people, we can’t do a good job. So tracking our training and knowing that we are doing it right is critical. One of the things we’re trying to do is to maintain best practices so when we have an ISO audit we can show what we’ve done. They have certain criteria that you are expected to maintain, including 20 hours of training per month per firefighter. StationSmarts lets us track that accurately, so we can show what we’ve done. If you can’t document it, it didn’t happen.”
Our Solution: A Fully-Integrated Training Module
The StationSmarts training module is aligned with the NFPA’s training standards as well as the requirements established by the ISO and OSHA. Curricula from established training programs are preloaded into the module. Each program is connected to the NFPA, ISO and OSHA standards so it is easy to determine which standards are being met. In-house programs can also be developed and linked to appropriate standards to keep a consistent and accurate training log.
Department personnel can record the training activity using the activity tracker module, which automatically populates the training log in the individual’s personnel file. At the push of a button, department personnel can quickly determine where they need to focus their training efforts in order to comply with best practices. Command staff can review monthly and annual progress to plan future training initiatives and stay on track.
2. Consistent Code Enforcement and Inspections
“The systems we have in place and the fire prevention programs the industry has in place are designed not only to prevent fires, but to keep them small if they occur,” says Chief Stowers. “We’ve got a lot of buildings downtown that are pretty close together. If we had a major fire, we could lose a whole block. So we’ve got to do prevention work and we have to do it consistently. We don’t have a full-time inspector, so inspections are done by the captains. In the past it was possible for each captain to interpret things a little differently. Now if they find a violation, they can take a picture of it and leave specific notes giving the next inspector the same perspective. StationSmarts allows us to take a more consistent approach to code enforcement.”
Our Solution: Conducting Inspections from a Tablet
StationSmarts’ mobile inspections checklists incorporate state and local fire codes so there is no need to refer to the code books. Inspections are conducted onsite using a tablet, which allows inspectors to attach audio files, photographs and reference notes. Whether conducting a pre-fire plan, safety survey, smoke or carbon monoxide detector inspection, the results are linked to the property’s permanent record, where they can be easily accessed and referred to during future inspections. Where appropriate, certification and rejection letters, including a list of violations along with citations to appropriate codes and ordinances, can be generated onsite and emailed directly to the relevant parties.
3. Track all Daily Activities to Demonstrate Workflow
“I’ve been in the fire service for twenty-seven years,” says Chief Stowers. “Every year, it seems like fires are going down. And when people look at that from a big picture perspective, they think fires are down so we can cut back. Well, yeah, fires are down. But there’s a good reason for that: we, as an industry, are doing a darn good job of fire prevention and inspections and pre-fire planning. So, I need to be able to show that. Our calls are not dropping. Our calls are going up year to year, even though the number of fires is dropping. So we need to be able to illustrate what we do to our elected officials—at the local level, at the state level, and at the federal level—what we do when the lights and sirens aren’t going up and down Main Street. In order to do that, we need to track our daily activity.”
Our Solution: The Activity Tracker
StationSmarts’ activity tracker replaces the hand-written daily log kept by many fire departments. Completely customizable, it allows fire departments to use existing categories and action items or to develop their own so they can track and filter the information in whatever way best serves their purpose. Information captured in the activity tracker is immediately incorporated into other modules, eliminating the need to enter data into the system more than once.
StationSmarts Gets the Job Done
“I think the most important thing about records management is that it helps departments improve their operations by striving for best practices,” says Chief Stowers. “In order to do that, you’ve got to document what you do and what you want to do and find out where your deficiencies are so you can create an action plan that’s geared towards providing the best service as possible to your community.”