ASHEVILLE NC – When people need help quickly, it is critical to make sure all the right pieces are in place. That’s why the City of Asheville developed a video training tool that allows firefighters to remain at their posts as they hone their skills, technology that earned the city recognition for its innovative approach to training its fire fighters.
On Wednesday, April 9th, the UNC School of Government announced the winners of their annual Government Information Grant Awards. The City of Asheville was selected runner up for their Firefighter Distance Training Program, a joint effort between the City’s Fire Department and Information Technology Services department that allows fire staff to receive critical training while remaining on duty at neighborhood fire stations. The result is a better prepared fire fighting team and an overall safer city.
“Our geography is very unique in that the mountain ranges divide the City’s fire coverage areas and require most fire crews to travel through downtown to reach other fire districts,” says Division Chief Barry Hendren. “We run about 16,000 calls a year, and we have to be creative in keeping primary fire companies available and in their assigned areas.”
The City of Asheville worked with a startup company called Vidyo to provide cost effective remote video conferencing between 11 fire stations and the main training facility downtown. Using the new system, firefighters connect with the downtown classroom to participate in training lectures and demonstrations using their existing computers and network connections. By allowing fire crews to remain on duty in their assigned areas, the Asheville Fire Department reduced costs associated with relocating firefighting equipment during classroom training events and kept firefighters where they were needed most.
“We’re always trying to think two and three moves ahead with the finite number of fire stations, fire engines and ladder trucks we have,” says Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette. “It’s critical that those resources are strategically placed throughout the city. The distance training system allows us to keep those pieces in place when people need help.”
IT Services Project Manager, Jeff Reble noted, “With an installation cost of about $25,000, the distance training system has yielded annual savings of $12,000 in fuels costs, truck maintenance and reductions in instructional time required to serve individual fire stations.”
The runner-up award comes with a $2,500 prize that will be used for other Fire Department training technologies.