Crisis averted

Tuesday, 17 January, 2017 | Supplied by: IQPC

Fire & Rescue NSW (F&RNSW) is the seventh largest urban fire service in the world, with over 6800 firefighters serving at 339 fire stations across the state. When dealing with life or death emergencies spanning over 800,000 square kilometres, efficient operation is essential, ensuring that emergency services reach callouts quickly and arrive with the necessary equipment.

F&RNSW Field Service Manager Marcus Swansborough manages the field service team that looks after two communication centres and all fire stations and specialist divisions.

“We’re responsible for a wide range of technology,” said Swansborough.

“We look after PMR networks and all fixed and portable radiocommunications in all our stations and vehicles. This includes satellite and phones, automatic vehicle location and mobile data technology. We also provide specialist support for our two emergency 000 communication centres in Sydney and Newcastle.

“When it comes to dealing with maintenance or service issues across F&RNSW infrastructure, the team has various bits of equipment that they use. Currently we use Marval, which is an integrated IT service management ticketing system. All faults are reported to our service desk and a ticket is raised. The field service team have the ability to remotely access these tickets through their Toughbooks and iPhones.

“Our Toughbooks include diagnostic software for all the various bits of equipment and we also use them to interface into or test equipment — so that’s anything from spectrum analysers to cable testers for the network.

“We support and maintain a wide range of the backend equipment and communication technology, and it’s this technology that allows our communication centres and fire stations to carry out their jobs effectively. Basically, we help the operational guys and gals get the wet stuff to the red stuff, as we like to say.

“F&R field service management is quite different to, say, a utilities company, for example. What we look after is a very broad and wide range of technologies across a very large area. We look after everything from power in the station with backup UPS systems to the CAD systems in our communications centres.

“System monitoring is extremely important to us. Currently we’ve got software that monitors our CAD systems, station turnout equipment, the communication centre systems and our PMR networks. This monitoring allows us to keep tabs on system performance in our communications centres, fire stations and PMR networks with the ability to remotely test the station power backup systems as required. This monitoring and testing ability allows us to plan routine maintenance runs and also to respond field teams to our stations that have had turnout equipment storm damage.

“To be able to monitor equipment remotely is critical for us. Enhancing and automating monitoring technologies is always a focus — we’re looking at shifting maintenance from the reactive to the proactive by pre-empting maintenance requirements.

“Updating and developing a ticketing system that is remotely accessible via an app to the guys out in the field is a huge priority. Ideally, instead of trawling through all the outstanding maintenance jobs on the service desk, we’re looking into a system that will categorise jobs based on location; multiple jobs in an area will be highlighted and repeat jobs flagged so that when I send a team member out into a regional area he doesn’t go out for one job, he can see all the others that might be along the same route. This will save not only maintenance time, but resources too.

“Secondly, we’re looking to automate the tracking of assets. Stations are full of IT equipment that is crucial to the operation of a station and its ability to respond quickly to firecalls. At the moment I’m looking into the tracking of assets via either Bluetooth or a ‘scanable’ app that automatically transmits asset status into our system, so that if something does become faulty we can be ready and have a new bit of kit back at the office ready to take back out to the station. Being able to know at any given time the status of our technology assets at a particular site would provide a huge maintenance and safety advantage,” he said.

Admittedly, F&RNSW doesn’t have customers in the traditional sense and, while automated processes are definitely the way of the future, the importance of building rapport with clients is the defining element of the team’s field service operation.

“For us, the interaction with out clients — operational and admin staff within F&RNSW — is very important. When we arrive at a fire station we always present ourselves to the Station Office and look at developing a rapport with them.

“By liaising in person with staff, we know what is unique to particular stations, and from these relations we’ve developed with each station, we can better meet their needs and make improvements. As we cover such a large area, we also rely on local contractors in regional areas. It is important we build up good relations with them so they understand our technologies, our operational requirements and can provide support when we cannot get our own field service tech to site.

“For me, catching up on a regular basis with operational staff and external contractors is very important. Liaising with the operational staff helps me to understand the challenges they may be encountering with our communication and turnout technology. They can also provide us with some great feedback on how we can make technology work even better for them.

“As Zone Commanders have information passed on from individual stations, it’s always good to catch up with them — instead of visiting 10 stations individually. By getting out and liaising with them, you get a great cross-section of information and the ability to see if a pattern of issues is developing, especially when it comes to radiocommunications coverage.

“At the end of the day, we’re an emergency service and it’s crucial we have everything up and running 24/7,” he said.

Image credit: © Igor Stevanovic/Dollar Photo Club

Phone: 02 9229 1000
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