Firefighter helps develop app to plot fire hydrants

Over the last two years, the app has been adopted by fire departments in California, Texas, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia and many more

Tracey Porpora
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Picture a fire in a catering hall with people screaming and running out of the building.

“It’s night time, and to make matters worse, it is alternate side [of the street] parking and garbage day in New York City,” says Bobby Banome, a city firefighter.

“My riding position was ‘control’ meaning my primary responsibility was to procure a positive water source for firefighting operations. The closest, most opportune hydrant was blocked by two double parked cars, as well as covered by garbage bags. Due to such factors, I missed the closest hydrant and used the second closest hydrant. Although we were able to successfully put the fire out with no major injuries, this slowed down our process severely,” he said.

When discussing the story afterwards he was asked, “Why don’t [firefighters] know exactly where the hydrants are?”

The answer, Banome says, is simple: there are more than 110,000 hydrants in New York City alone. In fact, every city has hundreds that just can’t be memorized by every firefighter.

“Although firefighters often practice drilling and response area familiarization, we cannot memorize the exact location of every single hydrant in the city. Often, we are relocated, forcing us to work quickly in an unfamiliar area -- meaning we are not aware of nearby hydrants. It’s unrealistic to expect human brains to retain such information, especially while lives are on the line,” said Banome.

That’s why Banome teamed up with businessman Robert LaRocca to develop the Rapid Response app in Dec. 2016.

Since then, the app has been adopted by fire departments in California, Texas, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia and many more, said LaRocca.

“Year after year, I read news articles about life and property being lost due to fires,” said LaRocca.

“[Firefighters] risk their lives to save civilians, and sometimes have to sacrifice their life. All of this, and the story above about Bobby going on a run and not being able to find his hydrant shocked me, and that story drew the line for me. Being a civilian, being the one who would be asking these fireman to save my life if I was in a fire, gave me an outlook on this issue that many people never take the time to recognize,” he added.


LaRocca said the app the pair developed allows firefighters to locate the following:

1. The five closest hydrants

2. The exact distance of those hydrants from the fire location

3. The last confirmed status of those hydrants (in-service, out-of-service, no drain, etc.)

4. Main sizes and gallons per minute those hydrants are outputting

5. A “street view” picture of the hydrant and its surroundings

6. Turn-by-turn navigation when responding outside of the response area

7. A 3D view of the building on fire

8. Obstacles, such as trees or overhead wires in front of the fire building blocking the aerial ladder

9. Presence of front or rear fire escapes

10. Presence of window bars

11. Open/closed shafts on the roof

12. Rear setbacks

“This software will allow firefighters to make a plan of attack before they reach the fire,” said LaRocca. “This will help save precious minutes, which will save lives. Instead of pulling up to the fire, and creating a plan of attack on the run, they will pull up already prepared, and move at an even more rapid pace.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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