Maintaining your department’s records

NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2008 edition requires fire departments to maintain records on the complete history of all elements including rental and loaner gear.  There are no specific requirements on how the records are kept; only that they are easily accessible.  Additionally, the department can choose to compile and maintain record themselves or outsource to a third party.  For departments that outsource their cleaning, inspection and repairs, they could track certain information, such as element issue, themselves and have their vendor track element maintenance information.  It is up to the department to determine what method best suits their organization.

So what are your record-keeping options?

One option is simply tracking by hard copy, compiling all cleaning, inspection and repairs, whether done by department personnel or by a Verified ISP, on paper. You can accomplish this by creating your own forms and files that include all necessary bits of information and/or by compiling paperwork submitted to you by your Verified ISP. This method is simple, can be done by anyone and requires no knowledge of computers or database use. It can be a simple task for a small department but can become extremely cumbersome for medium to large departments as it can be time consuming and will require meticulous filing in order to provide the necessary access when needed. This also does not give you the ability to quickly print out reports when specific information is needed.

If your department employs someone who is well versed in database creation, management and report writing you can create your own tracking database using Excel, Access or other similar software. This offers the advantage of simplifying management of a large number of elements as well as faster, easier retrieval of information. It will require a large commitment of time while the database is built, but once implemented time consumption should lessen.  The amount of information that can be stored and easily manipulated for accurate reporting is dependent on the software used and the skill level of the creator of the database.

Another option is using one of several tracking databases that are available through your manufacturer or ISP. Generally this requires collecting information on the 11 record-keeping elements required by NFPA 1851 and manually entering the information into the database. Both desktop (loaded directly onto your computer) and internet (accessed via the web) databases are available.  Your city or departments’ policy on securing information should be reviewed before selecting to use an internet based system.  However the advantage is the elimination of on-site technical problems, which can occur with desktop systems.

A fourth option is to allow your Verified ISP to do the tracking for you. Most Verified ISP’s will have clean, inspection and repair history backed up in their system for your department that can be retrieved anytime. Some Verified ISPs will work with your quartermaster or stores officer to track element issue and other records required by NFPA 1851.  Verified ISP’s will often have the ability to create history reports for specific elements, specific firefighters or for your entire department that will give you all the information you need with a simple request. Some also offer the ability to remotely access this information yourself. This can be a great asset to your department by freeing firefighters for more vital duties. If your department does cleaning, inspection or routing repairs internally those records will not be captured by your ISP and will require additional tracking on your part.

Now that we have looked at the pros and cons of a few of the options, we would like to hear from you.

What method does your department use to track gear?

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