Center Adds New Dimension To HFD’s Arsenal

Flames leap hundreds of feet into the sky, as a frightening wall of thick smoke engulfs an area of dry brush the size of a football field. The searing blaze of the noon day heat, coupled with stifling humidity and heat from the ensuing fire, send temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees. A helicopter hovers precariously overhead with its precious liquid cargo, as courageous firefighters valiantly wage battle against the clock, and harsh, unforgiving elements.

A cacophony of firefighters’ voices can barely be heard above the din that reverberates outward from the epicenter of the fire. Inside the relatively quiet, air-conditioned comfort of the Honolulu Fire Department’s (HFD) Command Center 1 nearby, calm voices prevail as fire management personnel exchange critical information with key contacts in the field – transforming the incident into a seamless, well orchestrated operation.

Such a scenario, which will demonstrate the effectiveness of HFD’s command center truck, is envisioned when the $449,000 (not including additional equipment) state-of-the-art technological wonder on wheels is dispatched to its first incident. Command Center 1 will add a new dimension to HFD’s arsenal of weapons.

Command Center 1 is 35 feet, 6 Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ inches. Its width is 8 feet, 2 inches, and its height is 11 feet, 7 inches. The truck weighs 44,000 pounds. The front of the cab is manufactured by Spartan, and the command center box is manufactured by SVI. Command Center 1 is an SVI Fire & Rescue truck, and is manufactured in Loveland, Colorado. Funding came from the city’s capital improvement projects.

It has a telescopic camera to visualize an incident from a distance, if the command post is not situated at the incident. The camera extends from the roof of the command center an additional 20 feet, and it has zoom capabilities. Command Center 1 is able to receive signals from an HFD helicopter, which has a component known as a FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Device).

A FLIR is mounted to the helicopter, and can identify hot spots or locate a missing hiker, because it uses heat sensors to differentiate between an individual and the surrounding area. The signal can be beamed back to the command center. It can also switch off to a video camera. In the past, HFD would have had to send an incident commander up in a helicopter, to enable a visual assessment of the incident.

Now, it isn’t necessary to send a commander up in a helicopter, because the FLIR attached to the helicopter enables HFD to see the incident from the command center. It saves precious time, and whatever is seen by the FLIR is recorded. HFD is also incorporating wireless communication into the system.

Currently, all battalion chiefs have laptops in their vehicles. When they go to an incident, they talk in terms of divisions (geographical locations). If the incident is on a major scale, they could put battalion chiefs in these different divisions, and operating from their laptops, they can beam that signal (whatever is on their monitors) back to the command center.

The command center has screens that can be divided into four quadrants that enable HFD to see what is on the screens of each division chief’s laptop. For example, a chief could list manpower or resources in that specific division. Each company is required to do a monthly pre-plan.

HFD goes to a different facility, perhaps a target hazard (a facility such as a hospital or school that is more susceptible to an incident), and identifies specific points such as whether the facility has hazardous materials, or whether there are sick people who are unable to move on their own. These kinds of records are already computerized, so HFD can transmit data to the command center via wireless, at the incident. It would also identify where connections are, such as sprinklers, or if a fire alarm system is available.

This is the first time the manufacturer has specified such a truck in this way. If HFD needs additional resources, via the wireless system, the personnel could access the Internet from the truck.

Command Center 1 also has a TRP 1000 onboard the truck. It’s a radio device with programmed frequencies for different agencies in the system. For example, agencies such as Civil Defense, the Honolulu Police Department, and EMS. When HFD arrives at an incident, and such agencies are expected to participate in a unified command.

Something unique Command Center 1 has that other trucks don’t have, is an onboard galley. The truck has a bathroom, a sink, and hot water. That may seem like a minor matter, but when firefighters are in isolated areas without the convenience of a bathroom, sink and hot water, a firefighter would have to be relieved by another firefighter, to use the bathroom. That could throw a wrench into the entire operation. Having a galley at the incident will be an advantage for HFD in that everyone is kept in place.

Command Center 1 has a large awning, so if the truck becomes congested with personnel inside, crews can set up on the outside. Another unique feature, is that one side of the vehicle can slide out an additional 3 feet. Personnel can increase interior office space within by 50 percent. One of the advantages of having the slide out section of the truck, is has windows. This enables a commander to see an incident from the large picture windows inside the truck. There are other command centers that don’t use windows, and rely on a camera for visuals.

In Hawaii, because of the heat from the sun, as well as humidity (including rain), Command Center 1’s windows allow personnel to function inside the air-conditioned truck, shielded from the harsh elements outside. The command box is resistant to Hawaii’s climate, because it’s built with an aluminum body.

With the command center, the crew is isolated from inclement weather, for example. It also provides the crew with adequate work space, when compared to working from the back of a truck, without a table, exposed to the elements.

It’s not conducive for making important decisions, as well as exchanging information. The vehicle has three separate meeting rooms, which enables meetings to be held simultaneously. In the past, HFD has done its best in tracking individuals and resources present at an incident.

Now, when an incident flares at an isolated area, HFD can assign an individual to keep track of personnel and resources (from within the truck). As a result, HFD can do a more effective job inside the truck, than outside, amidst the elements and other distractions.

Another advantage of the command center, is that the crew can carry more resource materials, such as binders, than it was able to from the back of trucks. The truck also has floodlighting capability, so the crew can provide additional lighting during night operations at an incident.

Another important aspect of having a command center is identifying where the post is. For example, when there are 30 vehicles at an incident, a tiny suburban isn’t going to stand out, if it’s surrounded by large fire trucks.

Other agencies sometimes have had difficulty in finding the commander at the incident. With Command Center 1, HFD will have the truck’s antenna and camera up, so the location of the post will be identifiable.

Command Center 1 is also used for rehabilitation of firefighting personnel. When the incident is a long term one for example, HFD needs to bring personnel in to check their medical status, provide them with hydration, and feed them every so many hours.

Ultimately, Command Center 1 has forever changed the unique dynamics of firefighting in Hawaii – a state consisting of a chain of islands with sheer cliffs, volcanic terrain, isolated forests, aging pipelines, dirt roads or a lack of roads (in remote areas), and acres of parched grasslands – in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the Mainland. Unlike its counterparts in the continental United States, HFD can’t rely on additional resources from neighboring contiguous states.

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