Take a spin through the headlines and it’s easy to see fire departments struggling with fixed asset management. In a rural Mississippi town recently, thieves made off with much of the equipment that allowed a volunteer fire department to do its critical job. They stole the “jaws of life,” saws, fans, tools and other equipment. The same thing happened in Alabama last month. In the past year thieves also took life-saving fire equipment in Texas, Kentucky, Connecticut, Tennessee, Idaho, North Carolina, Colorado, to name a few. In Ohio – just this week – someone took an $11,000 “jaws of life” off a fire truck during a fire.
In many cases, officials suspect the “inside job” but they usually have no way of knowing for certain because they have no solid, reliable system of asset management that tells them, at any given time, the location and possession of all critical equipment.
The first thing we usually think about in such cases is the lost assets. This equipment is not cheap. In a large East Coast city last year, auditors noted that fire department assets valued at $592,137 could not be accounted for. Auditors noted that the department had not heeded instructions to implement “certain procedures to better safeguard equipment and improve the accuracy of its asset records. Specifically, the department did not account for equipment transfers between different locations within the department. Nor did it require that differences between physical counts and the asset records be investigated and explained in writing. Consequently, there was an increased risk of lost, misplaced, or even theft of city assets.”
But a lack of command visibility is not just a matter of dollars and cents when it comes to fire-rescue; it’s life-and-death. If a victim is trapped in a car, you need to know now who has the jaws of life tool and where that person is. The victim doesn’t have minutes to spare.
The National Fire Protection Association issued a report that said proper resource deployment in communities and the operational effectiveness – or ability to instantly respond to dynamic situations – is directly related to firefighter and civilian injury and death and property loss. Especially in a time of tight budgets, fire officials need to know the whereabouts of human and fixed assets at all times.
Asset management tools now exist that allow fire-rescue officials the full command visibility they need to both act as good stewards of public assets and also respond more effectively to dynamic emergency situations. RFID tagging technologies and GPS can offer real-time information of all assets, including firefighters themselves, so departments everywhere lose less equipment and fewer lives.