CHICO, Calif. - When firefighting crews respond to an emergency, every second spent assessing the scene could mean the difference between life and death.
The Chico Fire Department is now using a new piece of technology to help crews fine-tune their live-saving efforts. Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough spent time with a Battalion Chief to learn more about the program the department calls Community Connect.
“As a fire department responding we have to make decisions quick, so the more information we have the better to make an effective decision,” explains Battalion Chief Wes Metroka.
Firefighters are often called to scenes in which homes and businesses are on fire or facing another kind of threat. Crews are able to tap into GPS and other data relating to the property address. Before even arriving to the scene, they know the property size, if there are stairwells and which side of the building those are located, does the building house hazardous materials; all factors that play a role in first responders making an efficient entry.
Firefighters now can also access more detailed information for residential properties and homes, with the use of a program called Community Connect.
“It’s made our jobs more effective because we get real-time information that is critical to fire ground situation,” says Battalion Chief Metroka. “Our number one priority is making sure everyone is out of a house, so the more pieces of information we have the better. Even knowing a family’s emergency meeting place when they leave their house can help us. We might know the family should be at the mailbox at the front of the yard. If someone is missing, that person might be in the house.”
How does Community Connect work? Homeowners can voluntarily sign-up and then enter any-bit of information that would be helpful to firefighters to know in advance of a call.
“Maybe you have two people home alone and they may not be able to get you that info when they’re responding; they may not have the opportunity to tell dispatch important information.”
Some of the information that might help firefighters includes, is there propane on the property? Is there an empty pool in the area that crews could fall into during a night response? Do you have animals; perhaps a vicious dog emergency crews should be aware of? And what about kids or elders? Is there someone else in the home who has special needs?
“For instance, if someone at home has information about a person who is non-ambulatory or can’t get out of bed and where that person is located, that is helpful. When we have that information in advance it immediately tells us we have a possible rescue and we know where that person is located.”
Veteran firefighters say this technology is just another tool in the large arsenal emergency crews use to help save lives. Years ago, crews on scene relied on paper notes which had to be continually updated.
Battalion Chief Jim Lucanic has been with the Chico Fire Department for 15 years. He says improvements in technology offer emergency response teams the opportunity to continually improve and help the public.
“We have a lot of tools all the time we’re constantly upgrading and constantly training, so to be able to possibly find somebody a little bit quicker and get them out of a house, we’re able to take that information and be prepared for it.”
The Chico Fire Department began using Community Connect in December 2020 and is encouraging those who live in Chico to sign-up. It is voluntary and free.