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App puts information at firefighters' fingertips

Local firemen are now able to tackle fires with the help of a smartphone application.

By entering a few details about weather conditions at the scene of a fire, the new application will help frontline firefighters know how fast, in what direction and how hotly a fire is burning.

“It saves us going to the computer or doing the calculations by hand,” said South Canterbury principal rural fire officer Rob Hands.

“After 30 seconds you have what you are looking for. There are a lot of gadgets out there, but this is one that is worthwhile.”

The application had been released last year on android phones, but after high demand from firefighters, a version for the Apple iPhone has been made available.

The application, Fire Behaviour Calculator, developed by the Christchurch-based Scion rural fire research team, had been pitched towards rural firefighters.

In a situation of more than one fire, the information frontline firemen could access from the application would allow them to predict which fire was the priority and where to send resources.

Data collected from experimental burns and wildfires were used to develop tools that help fire managers to make decisions about how best to tackle any given fire.

“These tools started out as paper-based lookup tables and field manuals,” senior fire researcher Grant Pearce said.

“Over time, we evolved these into software applications, which are now used widely by fire managers.”

By putting wind speed, relative humidity, slope, and other factors into their phones, fire managers can use the software to calculate a fire’s rate of spread, its intensity, flame length and a lot of other useful measures for firefighting.

Mr Hands said while they had used it in training exercises, they were still waiting for suitable fires to use it in the field.

_Emma Cropper reporting for The Timaru Herald