GFFR launches program to gather information to help emergency responses

Great Falls Fire Rescue has launched a new program aimed at gathering information to speed response times and reduce loss of life and property.

The program, Community Connect, is part of GFFR’s new records management system.

It allows residents and business owners to log in and enter information about their properties, such as who’s living there, pets, medical information, any hazardous materials on site, any mobility issues or other physical needs.

The information is stored securely and is only accessible by firefighters when they’re responding to an emergency call, according to Fire Marshal Mike McIntosh.

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He said GFFR has iPads in fire engines and other apparatus that show them available information about building construction, gas lines, owner or manager contacts, whether they have emergency key boxes, among other details.

Much of that information comes through the city’s GIS system and information gathered by the fire department that migrated from their old records management system, McIntosh said.

Not all buildings have emergency key boxes, but McIntosh said the city is now requiring that on new construction that has life safety systems such as sprinklers or fire alarms.

GFFR conducting training downtown

The Community Connect program  “provides us with a lot more information on the front end, so we know more going in,” he said.

McIntosh said that the system allows them to send text messages to property owners or managers if GFFR has been called to their property in an emergency.

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McIntosh said that often, older residents will tell firefighters that they have a hide-a-key, but that doesn’t help much since it’s not necessarily logged or communicated to other firefighters. Having that information in the Community Connect system means it’s available to any responding GFFR unit and saves time by making it easier to find.

The same goes for door codes to buildings, he said.

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The system will email registered users annually to verify or update their information, he said.

McIntosh said the system GFFR had used since 2017 was acquired by another company and no longer met the department’s needs.

GFFR officials began soliciting bids and spoke with other fire service officers nationwide who were in a similar situation to find a new system before the old system converted to the new one in January 2023.

McIntosh said many other fire departments recommended First Due, the system GFFR selected, and ImageTrend, which was similar in cost.

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The old system was about $15,000 annually, but the under the new company would have cost $36,540 annually and not met GFFR needs.

First Due is $53,550 for the first year and $48,700 after that, according to a staff report.

City Commissioners approved the contract for the new system in December.

McIntosh said he’s visiting all of the neighborhood councils to talk about the Community Connect system and the department will soon be rolling out a community awareness campaign.

The system also allows residents to add information about their pets, to include if there are aggressive animals, which is a safety factor for responding GFFR personnel.

“People care about their pets. If we know that they’re there, we’ll do everything that we can to locate them and get them out if we are able,” McIntosh said.

Giving GFFR more information ahead of a response can speed their responses and increase the chances of saving life and property, which reduces community risk, McIntosh said.

Learn more or sign up here.