Meet INA, the intervention app for fire brigades

“In an intervention, every minute counts and a good image of the incident is therefore of capital importance. We want to prepare ourselves already during the trip to the emergency in order to act efficiently and in a targeted manner once on site.” This is how Captain Lieven Hilgert of the Antwerp Fire Brigade (BZA) summarizes why they started a public tender end of 2018. “We were looking for a new mobile data terminal (MDT) for this but during the public tender, the start-up Gemsotec surprised us with the best of 2 worlds: an MDT and chat combined in one application…”

A challenging context

The Antwerp fire brigade zone had to intervene no fewer than 10,381 times in 2019. These interventions can be classified into different types such as, for example, “fire vehicle” or “storm damage”. However, every intervention is always different and has its own characteristics. Fortunately, the fire brigade can rely on a lot of experience, teamwork, knowledge and a lot of information. For example, the commanding officer of an intervention has several procedures, hazardous material sheets and an extensive Geographic Information System available. “Although all this information helps to lead the intervention, it is not self-evident to quickly find the correct information and this with as few clicks as possible,” says Lieven Hilgert. “In addition, good communication and information sharing between the teams is essential.”

"Recent technological developments offer new opportunities to provide for these functionalities. Offering a solution to such a team of heroes makes us proud."

Geert Sergoyne, CEO Gemsotec Tweet

Chat with interactive map

“Young and old nowadays use chat applications such as WhatsApp. The fact that this way of communicating is so well established proves its strength and efficiency. We took advantage of this opportunity here. In this application, a chat is the central place for all information and communication about the intervention. It starts with automatically creating an intervention channel from the existing dispatching software of the fire brigade. In this intervention channel, all available information about the intervention is offered, such as the location, the assigned unit and the type of intervention. The intervention channel then allows to communicate before and during the intervention and to share photos and other information. Operational documents such as procedures can not only be consulted via the app, but an intelligent chatbot will proactively provide the relevant procedures in the intervention channel depending on several parameters. ”

In addition to the chat, the Nazka Mapps map frame is an important part of INA. Nazka Mapps managing partner Ides Bauwens explains: “Our interactive map visualizes relevant information on a map. This information comes from existing systems of the Antwerp Fire Brigade Zone or information that is publicly available. On the one hand, this map is automatically controlled in function of the intervention and the intervention type, on the other hand, the user can display specific map layers with GIS data, such as the location of the hydrants. It is possible for the teams themselves to store useful information about a particular location on the map so that it is visible and available to colleagues in the future. The intelligent map also provides routing to the location of the incident, weather information and the real-time position of the units. ”

“The users are enthusiastic and the application is experienced as very useful. Moreover, this enthusiasm is shared by support services such as those responsible for communication.

Lieven Hilgert, Captain Fire Brigade Antwerp Tweet

One of the major advantages is that it can be used on almost all devices such as tablets, smartphones, but also on laptops or desktops. This makes it very accessible which is an absolute added value to stimulate good cooperation. The spokesperson for BZA speaks about “the added value lies in the easy sharing of images and the contact with the various actors via smartphone.”

The conception allows to use it for other fire zones or emergency services thanks to the configurability. With some integration with specific services INA can be adapted to the specific context. For example, it is possible to provide INA with the relevant zone with the files or GIS data. INA is not an endpoint, the application will evolve even further. There is a lot of thought and work on adjustments that improve the ease of use and additional functionalities that generate extra value for the users. After all, the possibilities for such an application in a complex context such as that of the fire brigade are endless.

“INA is the result of a unique and intensive collaboration between Fire Brigade Antwerp, Digipolis, Gemsotec and Nazka Mapps"

Pieter Lauwers, Solution Manager Digipolis Tweet

This article is adapted from the article of Fireforum. The full article can be found in the Fireforum Magazine 72 (April/May 2020, in Dutch).