Tracey Barron

Academic Research

By Tracey Barron

The methods fire agencies use to track calls vary according to emergency dispatch protocols and/or technology and the manpower available to manage the system and keep data current. The goal, however, is obviously the same no matter the method: finding the ultimate techniques—such as call data analysis—to efficiently protect life, property, and natural resources.

Manual tracking is obsolete in the computer age, and has been surpassed during the past decade with, for example, Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and the Fire Priority Dispatch System (FPDS).

GIS is a technology that integrates geographic features with tabular data to assess and better understand real-world problems. During the past 60 years, GIS has evolved into a way to visualize, manipulate, analyze, and display spatial data. GIS-layered maps can benefit fire agencies in many ways, including complex incident analysis to provide decision support for fire prevention, staffing requirements, and apparatus placement/deployment.

The FPDS can provide agencies with similar benefits.

A project to characterize the distribution percentages of call incident types using the structured protocol system (Dornseif, et al., 2014) proved as much. The nine agencies selected for the study all use FPDS and are Accredited Centers of Excellence.

The sample (2011–2013) of specific data elements extracted from ProQA datasets included the following, among others: the Chief Complaints (CCs) selected by the emergency fire dispatchers (EFDs) using ProQA; the priority level the EFDs assigned to each call; and the specific Determinant Descriptors the EFDs selected for each call.

The primary endpoints were the frequency distributions of calls, categorized by the CCs and priority levels, as selected by the certified EFDs in the centers.

Overall, 205,324 fire calls were handled by the nine centers during the study period. The most commonly used protocol was Protocol 52: Alarms, contributing nearly 50 percent of the total call volume. The top five were Protocol 52: Alarms, Protocol 67: Outside Fire, Protocol 69: Structure Fire, Protocol 53: Citizen Assist/Service Call, and Protocol 55: Electrical Hazard.

The overall percentage of BRAVO- and CHARLIE-level calls was nearly identical (35.3 percent and 35.0 percent of total call volume, respectively). Study findings demonstrate the ability of the EFD, using the FPDS, to gather detailed knowledge regarding the frequency distribution of call and event types.

As stated, this important data can assist fire services with planning and operational decision-making, including call response need, crew resource allocation, and even the purchase of new equipment and apparatus (e.g., the finding that Outside Fire calls are even more common than Structure Fire calls suggests a potential need for more apparatus specific to outside fires, such as a brush truck).

In the communication center, accurate call-type distribution provides the opportunity to track trends and patterns and to compare call distributions of similar agencies. Categorizing call types—normal to rare—can drive more effective training focusing on calltaker proficiency with common calls and preventing loss of EFD familiarity with call types that are infrequent, but potentially serious, if mishandled.

From the moment an emergency call is received, through the deployment of tactical resources, the FPDS (similar to GIS) helps reduce critical time and increases efficiency. Both provide additional power to the fire personnel whereby hazards are evaluated, service demands are analyzed, and resources deployed.


Dornseif J, Johnson B, Van Dyke A, Robinson D, Wiggins T, Daubert L, Hutchison M, Crook S, Sipple K, Kalmbach L, Scott G, Gardett I, Clawson J, Olola C. “The Distribution of a Fire Priority Dispatch System’s Call Incident Types and Priority Levels in Selected U.S. Fire Agencies.” Annals Emerg Disp Resp. 2014; 2 (2): 24-28.