Fire department data management. Just hearing that phrase can bring excitement and enthusiasm to a fire chief, right? For those rare data ninjas out there, most definitely. For the rest of us, not so much. Let’s face it, none of us joined the fire service to be data managers, but that’s exactly what we become the minute we begin our fire service careers. Sure, it might only be logbook entries and incident reports at first, but as we move up the ranks, having a solid grasp of data and the technology behind it is key to our ongoing success. Thankfully, there is some terrific software out there that can make your daily digital life more enjoyable.
1. Password Managers
Ah, the bane of our modern digital existence: The password. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could set it and forget it, but alas, that’s never going to happen. We are always being asked to change it, add more characters to it and inevitably we forget them from time to time. Additionally, there are many bad actors out there that are just clever enough to be a constant threat to our online security. How to cope? Easy, use a password manager. There are many good ones out there. My personal favorite is 1Password. It helps me easily use and update my 220+ passwords.
A must-have feature of a great password manager is the ability to access it across any of your devices, mobile or desktop. If your update a password on your smartphone, it should instantly sync with all your other devices. After you use a password manager for a while, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one. Most have a free trial period, so take one or more for a test spin to see which one you like best.
2. Microsoft Office 365
This might sound a little strange coming from an unabashed Mac fan like myself, but Microsoft Office 365 is the indispensable office suite. We all know about Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, but when it comes to running a fire department with sites spread across a region, you need to check out a relative newcomer to the Office 365 suite: Microsoft Teams. This gem of a program has recently rolled Skype into its feature set. However, Microsoft Teams allows you to do so much more than chat and make video calls. You can share documents, work together on those documents in real time, and create working groups for your divisions, shifts, and crews. We use it extensively at ER and it has proven to be an essential communications tool for those at our headquarters in Bellingham, WA as well as for those of us that work remotely.
3. “En Route” Software
A handful of Emergency Reporting’s partners offer some amazing software that provide critical information about getting to and then managing the incident. These clever programs help you manage the often overwhelming amount of information coming at you during an incident response. The first is Active 911, a program that enables users to get real time updates of responding personnel, share mapping data and pre-plans all from a mobile device.
Another one of our partners is FirstDue. This team has produced some magical software that mines occupancy data from both open (assessor’s office) and closed sources (ER) to compile an incident command-friendly detailed preplan of an occupancy that empowers incident commanders with need-to-know information necessary to keep their crews and communities safe.
Last, but certainly not least, is Spotted Dog. This gem of coding empowers with responders with the ability to pinpoint each responder using GPS and on-map tracking to calculate the ETA of all responders in real time. It also integrates with your device navigation app for turn-by-turn directions. Spotted Dog also stores and displays hydrants, hazards & preplans to make incident management smarter and safer.
All three of these “en route” solutions integrate with Emergency Reporting through our API (application programming interface).
4. Online Meeting Software
Our Sales, Training and Marketing Teams use GoToMeeting regularly, often multiple times a day. GTM and its sister solution, GoToWebinar help us manage, share, and promote our myriad online offerings. So how can this help me as a fire chief, you ask? Well, if you ever need to communicate with your city council, fire district board or your officers back home, but happen to be at a conference, setting up an impromptu GTM session by sending invites to participants is quite easy. How about conducting a public education webinar so members of your community that can’t make it in person can join virtually? You could also consider using online meeting software for some interdepartmental training or meetings that enable all essential personnel to attend without having to drive miles from their first due.
5. Screen Capture Software
Ever wish you could just grab a screenshot of what you’re working on an send it to a colleague or simply send over a how-to screen grab of the best way to configure the Occupancy Module in ER to your fire marshal? That’s where screen capturing software comes in handy. Both major operating systems come with built in tools: MacOS has keyboard shortcuts and Windows has the Snipping Tool. But for heavy lifting, capturing screen scrolling, creating annotations and editing, check out SnagIt by TechSmith. This is on my list of indispensable software for fire chiefs because sometimes it’s just easier to show a solution instead of trying to explain it.
6. BONUS: Mobile Mirroring Software
“Check out this cool mobile app!” exclaims a company officer as everyone gathers around him to look over his shoulder at his handheld device. If only he could project it onto a larger screen. Yep, there’s an app for that. My choice for screen mirroring is Reflector 3. This app allows me to mirror my iPhone to my MacBook Pro and share exactly what I’m doing on my phone with a larger audience. It’s perfect for training the troops on a new app or, say a new feature in your RMS like Rig Checks. Using AppleTV with iOS devices or Android’s built-in mirroring using Miracast or Chromecast are free solutions to consider.
Others to check out:
That’s a wrap on super software for highly productive chiefs. I hope you find them as helpful as I have for navigating the ever-changing digital environment we are immersed in every day.
Disclaimer: The author has no financial stake in any of the software solutions mentioned above, except for Emergency Reporting of course. Also, the primary software mentioned in each section is used daily by the author. All others are included based on research and word of mouth. Please test drive the free versions before making an investment in any technology.