Public Sector Future Podcast | Episode 49: Tech Saving Lives: A Fireside Chat with Chief Dan Munsey on Transforming Emergency Response

Episode 49 guest speaker San Bernardino Fire Chief Dan Munsey

Tech Saving Lives: Transforming Emergency Response

with Chief Dan Munsey

On this episode, host Olivia Neal speaks to San Bernardino Fire Chief Dan Munsey. He shares how embracing new technologies has brought opportunities to transform emergency response.

Episode 49: Tech Saving Lives: A Fireside Chat with Chief Dan Munsey on Transforming Emergency Response

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

On this episode, host Olivia Neal speaks to San Bernardino Fire Chief Dan Munsey. Chief Munsey is also Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Technology Council. He shares how embracing new technologies has brought opportunities to transform emergency response and help protect the two million residents of San Bernardino County.

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Tech Saving Lives: A Fireside Chat with Chief Dan Munsey on Transforming Emergency Response

On this episode, host Olivia Neal speaks to San Bernardino Fire Chief Dan Munsey. Chief Munsey is also Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Technology Council. He shares how embracing new technologies has brought opportunities to transform emergency response and help protect the two million residents of San Bernardino County.

From deserts to mountains

“We cover almost 20,000 square miles, which in perspective is the largest county in the United States. We have urban city environments within our valley areas, which transition into foothills. We have a large wildland urban interface, and then up into mountains that are, well, almost 12,000 feet above sea level, so. Actually in the mountain areas, we can have avalanches and be using snow cats to rescue people. At the same time, our firefighters can be along the Colorado River fighting a wildland fire in over 100 degrees heat. And so this large expanse, the different geography, the diversity of the population, the people, really make service delivery interesting.”

Dan Munsey is the Chief of the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District in California State. He’s worked in his field for over 25 years.

“Now, we are an all-hazard fire department. We are a technical rescue fire department. We do aircraft rescue firefighting on the San Bernardino National Airport. We have paramedics on every single one of our medic engines as well as our truck companies. We deploy squads and we also have ambulances in a large portion of our service area. Besides that all-risk nature, we tend to use technology quite a bit. So, it’s a fun operating area. There’s lots of challenges, figuratively and actual fires. Our firefighters are never bored, and neither am I.”

From rock climber to Fire Chief and technology leader

Munsey started his career in the Fire Service in 1995. He explained his journey to where he is today.

“I dropped out of high school and became a rock climber at beautiful Joshua Tree. I was rock-climbing and my friend fell and broke his back, and I decided I better get some first aid training, so I went to a local college, took my GED and took the EMT course they were offering. I did a ride-out with the fire department and I immediately knew what my heart was, and I pursued a career from there.”

“I grew up in a fire service that used pen and paper and radios for command and control, but you don’t really have a good situational awareness of the forces around you or who is doing what. We lacked sometimes the clarity and mission, and while we were good with pencil and paper and radios, about 10 years ago, we realized we could be better by adopting different operating systems.”

Munsey continued, “We were using actual computers, mobile data computers (MDCs), in our fire engines there, very rudimentary systems. We employed Automatic Vehicle Locating (ADL), rather quickly , as – as soon as it was available, but having ADL and having a map isn’t the same as having a true common operating picture, so we – we adopted Tablet Command back then, that allowed us to understand our calls better and be able to discuss with the dispatchers the nature of the emergency better, to be able to have better interagency operability and cooperation. And then having the mapping ability to display our units better in relationship to the actual emergency.”

“We were doing this as our own fire department, again rather big, but we were not doing it in cooperation with our neighbors. So, we discussed with our neighbors a regional deployment and deployed that common operating picture across our entire operating area to many departments, and that just made us even better.“

“Since then, we’ve adopted common preplan systems. We use other common operating pictures to be able to integrate and operate better with each other. And then lately we’ve been working with the state of California in creating a statewide common operating picture that will be able to display all the emergencies in California, simultaneously, regardless of scope or scale and be able to display the automatic vehicle locating, the status of these incidents, and be able to provide real-time imagery back to the firefighters.”

“So, it’s been a tremendous journey over the last couple of years when it comes to operational technology that’s deployed to allow the fire department to operate more efficiently, more organized and in a safer manner to provide a better service to our customers.”

The four pillars of technology adoption

“I think a lot of fire chiefs and leaders believe that if they buy the technology and then demonstrate it once to the organization that it will be adopted, and so there’s a lot of failures there, or incomplete adoption of technology. And that’s where the leadership needs to be involved, and it’s more than just showing the technology to the organization, and it’s more than just finding champions or super-users for this technology to demonstrate the benefit. It’s more than celebrating the wins and saying, “Great job, use this technology.” It’s more than that. Adopting technology at a point in time is great, but what about the future?”

Munsey introduced four pillars that need to be considered in every organization for the future technology:

Munsey recommended leaders start by “Examining your budgets for legacy technology, eliminating that legacy, and reimagining your budgets instead of trying to come up with new dollars for technology.”

Planning for the future by finding purpose

“I think the worst thing this organization can do is find a bright, shiny new technology and then buy it, and then try to adopt it. Technology needs to fit a purpose. That purpose should be to achieve a vision. It needs to be driven by the vision, supported by the mission, and then the technology supports that vision and mission.”

Munsey continued, “So younger firefighters drive the innovation in our agency, and as the leader I have great ideas on technology. I’m probably exposed to technology than most fire chiefs in my role as the International Association of Fire Chiefs chairperson, but what I know is that the last time I was on a fire engine, as a captain was 2008.”

“And so if I try to make decisions on what my needs were in 2008, I would do a really bad job at providing for the firefighters and captains of 2023. So what we’ve done is created an internal committee that looks at all aspects of the fire department from administration to operations. It’s composed of our vehicle mechanics. It’s composed of a secretary. It’s composed of our firefighters, our paramedics, chief officers, a very robust group.”

“And we started exposing these individuals to technology, and then we started asking them questions in their day-to-day job at how can we create better efficiencies, how can we create better safety, how can we create better operational control, using technology? This group became very active, and they would go out and talk to their peers and they would get ideas and you would find them going to trade shows, and they would be evaluating technology, not to purchase that technology, but to understand the purpose of it and then come back and evaluate how does this support our mission? And so that’s allowed us to have a ground up to incorporate a lot of our younger firefighters who are extremely interested in adopting the technology.”

“What we don’t want is the technology to drive the vision of the fire department. We want the vision of the fire department then to be supported by the technology. That’s the goal of these groups and our approach.”

What citizens have come to expect from fire departments

“What does the public expect, the citizens expect? They expect real-time information that’s not necessarily on social media. They also expect legacy information to be quickly accessible to them.”

“We’ve been able to create different apps, disaster, disaster apps that notify citizens of potential disasters, escape routes, where are we setting up different areas where the public can go to get services.”

“The public needs to be communicated to rapidly, but the challenge for us is that we don’t want to put out bad information. And so, in public government, often, the process is slowed way down as information is 100% vetted. And that doesn’t always sit well with the public. When they want an answer, they’ve been taught from the Internet that they’re able to get an answer within a couple of clicks. Why can’t I get the same answer from a public agency like a fire department? And if it’s taking so long to get an answer, what are they hiding?”

Munsey added, “So, it’s really important to us that we become very transparent in providing this information. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that you can’t give bad information, because if you fail at that once, you lose trust. And it’s, for our firefighters, with the adoption of technology, that exists as well, trust. If you put out a product for them to use, and it fails, no matter how good that product was or the reason why it failed, they will never use that product again, in an emergency environment. You have to make sure that you’re deploying your technology in a way where you ensure that it’s failsafe, that they can trust their lives, and the lives of their crew and the lives of the public on this technology.”

Identifying common problems and sharing lessons learned

“What’s amazed me is that across the United States, people have very common problems that we tend to think is unique only to our own organization. That’s not true. Take California. We tend to think the California Fire Service does rather well at answering a lot of these problems. But as you engage in the conversations, especially with some of the technology leaders like Microsoft, you realize that sometimes, we don’t fully understand our problems, nor do we understand some of the opportunities that exist today to resolve these problems.”

“I think every public safety agency in the world uses a computer-aided dispatch system (CAD). And what it is, is literally a server that stores information driven by our 911 calls, our emergency service calls. And in that CAD, we store information, like some of our GIS and our mapping, premise history, previous calls, and then we put our response data in there as well.”

“I think, what quickly opens up people’s eyes is if you start with this question. You say, hey, your most sensitive files that you’re working on at work, do you save those onto your hard drive on your computer? And most people, most professionals will say, no, you know, maybe one or two go on my hard drive, but no, I use the cloud. Who doesn’t use the cloud, Chief? That’s crazy. No, I want to be able to pick up my smart device, my smartphone, and immediately use it to access the paper that I was working on with my desktop or my laptop.”

“And then you say, oh, okay, yeah, exactly. And so, do we do that with our CAD systems? And then you see the realization dawn that CADs are nothing but servers, and the information is locked. And it’s not available on the cloud. And so, as a fire department, as we started expanding our operational acuity, or common operating pictures between different agencies, we recognize that we needed to connect our CADs to their CADs. So, we’re simply connecting servers to servers.”

Munsey added, “If we think about our future, today, it’s difficult enough to store enough information in our CADs. We’re always upgrading our servers. But if you think about the amount of information, the Internet of Things, the data that’s out there that we want as public safety professionals, it’s tremendous. And can we store all this data on a server? The answer is no, not easily.”

“When we talk about 3D modeling of buildings in your jurisdiction, right now, all new buildings in my jurisdiction, they’re not submitting paper plans. They’re submitting 3D twins, digital twins of the building. And these digital twins are going into a depository that I have no access, as a fire service professional.  So, a lot of this information is either stored in somebody’s server somewhere down in a basement or it’s destroyed at some point, or they’re printed out. But that’s an example of information that we need to be able to access, as public safety professionals, when we need it, and very quickly across multiple devices.”

“More importantly, I don’t just need those buildings in my jurisdiction. If San Francisco were to have another earthquake, and our rescue team responded to San Francisco, they need to have access to this digital twins of these buildings so that we can do our modeling. Where are we going to find our victims? How many people… what are the floors designed for? How many people can we anticipate to be on different floors? Where are the exits? There’s a whole bunch of questions that we cannot answer today.”

“When we first met with Microsoft in the California Fire Service community, we brought this problem to them. And they said, “Well, yeah, it makes sense to create a public safety cloud. And yes, you can store all the information that’s currently on your CAD systems. And yes, you can store all the information from your building departments. And yes, you can start collecting the Internet of Things, these data points that exist. But more importantly, we can aggregate that data, so it makes sense. And then using artificial intelligence and machine learning, then we can provide it back to you as information.”

“Remember, data is not information. Data needs to be interpreted, but having a human go through this data, interpreting information can take a long time. But if you’re relying on these corporations, like Microsoft, that has the ability to do that quickly, then you’re creating something that’s very actionable and usable. And so, this idea that we’re scoring across California, we recognize that there’s other areas across the world that are starting to view this. To me, this is limitless. There’s no reason why a firefighter in Germany shouldn’t be able to immediately come here to the United States and have the same information that my firefighters have,” Munsey concluded.

How to get started in implementing technology

“I’ve been absolutely blessed to have fallen into a technology world that I didn’t know existed. Six years ago, I wasn’t very familiar with technology.”

“So, the first way that I would start is I would look for a public safety summit to go to. The safety in the summit is that you’re going to hear a lot about technology that’s out there from the providers. You’re going to be able to evaluate what they’re saying without having the sales pressure.”

“Two, go to the wrong meetings. As fire service professionals, we tend to go to meetings with other fire service professionals. We look inside the fire service for our answers. Go meet with your public works, your road departments, your law enforcement and see what they’re doing. And I think we would be surprised by the variety of products that are out there, the variety of ideas that could coexist in our world that we just weren’t aware of.”

“Three, don’t be afraid to call anybody. Call me; look me up on LinkedIn, send me a message, ask questions. Be willing to say, I don’t know. Can you tell me where we’re going with the XYZ tracking of firefighters? Where are we going with augmented reality or mixed reality? Where do you see heads-up displays and – and fire service helmets? How are we going to display building information modeling or 3D modeling? How’s LIDAR going to change our world? What are the effective ways of using drones?”

Munsey added, “So, make those calls. Look for associations and coalitions that are leading the way in some of this technology and reach out to them. Ask to be on their newsletters. Look it up on the Internet. And then dream big. Do consider, in your own organization, setting up a technology committee, but ask them to do more than just evaluate current technology. Ask them to evaluate the organization and to be exposed of where we’re going to be in 10 years. And then ask them. Ask them the four pillars that I mentioned.”

“As a leader, I give bold vision. I give the 50,000-foot level vision is what we call it here, but I allow them to work on the lower level, the 10,000-foot vision, I want to make sure that I give them a broad objective, and then see what they come back with. They know their jobs better than I know their jobs. They know their needs better than I can anticipate their needs.”

“We have to create a bolder vision than we have today, than what brought us here today. Have a broad, big goal, but have a plan on how to get there. Leaders need to have a broader vision, rethink everything that we’re doing, set bigger goals, and then meet with your technology leaders and say, I don’t know how to do this, but I know that we can do this better.”

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