Carroll's 14 volunteer fire companies will make a leap into the future with new computers and training to modernize fire and emergency medical service reporting, authorities said.
County officials are supplying the Firemen's Association with one computer terminal and four software modules to be given to each fire company, allowing the stations to connect electronically to the emergency services training center in Westminster. The software will enable the volunteer companies to track data that must be reported monthly to state fire officials.
Such data, which had been tracked by hand and consumed hours of research and recordkeeping, will be generated in a matter of a few minutes, said Capt. Randy L. Fuhrman, a career firefighter and paramedic in Howard County.
Fuhrman, who lives and volunteers in Lineboro, a community of 67 homes nestled into the northeast corner of Carroll County, has been using the software to generate fire and emergency medical service reports for nearly 10 months.
Results in minutes
In addition to saving hours of manual recordkeeping, Fuhrman also uses the software to maintain a personnel history on each fire company member, logging their hours of response and training.
A company the size of Westminster, with more than 3,600 fire and emergency responses in 1998, could need 10 hours to collect data by hand for certain monthly reports, he said.
"With the new fire reporting system, it will take 10 minutes, maybe," Fuhrman said.
Lineboro bought its computer system a year ago, spending about $3,000 for the software, which included seven modules, and about $10,000 for three terminals.
Fuhrman said he was uncertain whether Lineboro will be reimbursed for its computer investment, but that he's glad other companies will be coming up to speed by Jan. 1.
Training is scheduled for this weekend, with half of the companies attending the eight-hour sessions each day.
"This is all strongly supported by the governor because older state computers are not Y2K compliant and had to be upgraded," Fuhrman said. "Eventually, every fire station in the state will be able to connect with every other to share data and training information."
Showing weak spots
Another benefit of computerized tracking, Fuhrman said, is the ability to quickly determine operational weaknesses.
The fire companies keep records on every fire and ambulance call, noting the time and day of the week. A look at the totals for each day and hour allows fire officials to know which companies are most likely to respond on time, or not at all.
Such data is invaluable in Westminster, for example, where volunteers responded last year to 201 of 659 calls for service in the county at 1 p.m., an hour when most companies are understaffed because members are working full-time jobs.
Knowing the peak periods and availability of members, fire company leaders might consider hiring paid personnel when coverage is likely to be weakest.
"Once individuals from each fire company are trained, they can go back to their stations and train others, lightening the burden for inputting the data," said Leon Fleming, liaison between the Firemen's Association and each company.
Getting an overview
He envisions the day when the commander on each fire call will return to the station and take a few minutes to enter data on a uniform incident report.
"From that one report, just about anything you may want to know will be registered for future use," he said. "You want to know if a particular firefighter is responding to calls regularly, you can check in a instant. You can see if he has had a physical recently, or if he is trained to use a certain piece of equipment."
The software will make everyone's life easier, Fleming said.