Firefighters Use Computers to Prevent Flames - Fire Alarm System

Fire Alarm System

VAN NUYS — Los Angeles firefighters have a new weapon in their arsenal to battle brush fires: a palm-sized computer that cuts in half the time needed to process brush clearance violations.

LAFD inspectors, however, use the calculator-size computers to collect data on brush clearance violations and notify property owners of their noncompliance.

Some 200,000 violation notices were sent out last year to business and residential property owners in Los Angeles, officials said. Inspectors spent countless hours visiting properties, recording data on paper forms, writing violation summaries, manually entering data into department computers and printing and mailing form letters.

Now, inspectors simply call up a list of properties to be inspected, enter a bar code that includes the assessor's map and page numbers, scan a list of violations and check off all that apply, said LAFD Senior Systems Analyst Jack Shafer, who developed the software program.

The information is then downloaded to a main computer at department headquarters, which prints out letters ready to be mailed to property owners.
"I had purchased a Palm for my own use and I kept getting ads from third parties about software programs that would let you write your own programs," Shafer said. "I asked myself, 'Could I do this for brush clearance?' "

Shafer downloaded a do-it-yourself software program to his personal organizer and wrote a program for brush clearance inspectors. He then showed the program to several Fire Department officials, who helped him refine it.

The entire process, he said, took about four months, which was just in time for brush clearance inspections that began in May.

"The time savings has been phenomenal," said Capt. Paul Quagliata, who commands the brush clearance unit. "It will enable us to complete our inspections in record time. We are doing in a month what usually takes four to five months." (Fire Alarm System)

Annual brush clearance inspections take place between May and July, Quagliata said, in preparation for the fire season.

The 70 miniature computers cost about $500 each--plus another $30 to $40 for straps that allow inspectors to wear them like wristwatches. The units were paid for with money originally earmarked for laptop computers that would have cost about $1,500 apiece, Shafer said.
By using the new devices, the Fire Department is saving the city about $123,000 a year in inspection and data entry costs, Shafer said.

"You can't really quantify how many fires didn't happen, how many people didn't burn," Shafer said. "What we do know is that the system is more efficient."

Shafer said he is currently developing software application programs for the Fire Department's emergency medical services and air operations units.

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July 02, 1999


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