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Firing up knowledge for fire-fighters

Major industrial fires and incidents involving hazardous materials often place fire-fighters in the most dangerous situations of their working lives. Yet as such occurrences are rare, many will face these situations for the first time with little foreknowledge of such incidents. RIMSAT aimed to improve the odds in the fire-fighters favour.,

The IST project RIMSATs objective was to develop the methods and tools that would help fire-fighters share the lessons learnt from hazardous incidents with their colleagues in other forces as well as their own, and to build a knowledge database that would assist in the education of young trainees. Turning lessons learnt into formal knowledge base Project partner Andrew Lewis of Nemesia in France explains further. "Often one particular fire service will have experience of how to deal with a major incident, while fire-fighters in another brigade may not. Rather than have each fire-fighter learn only from his immediate colleagues, we wanted to develop the 'what did we learn today' results of such incidents into a more formal collection of knowledge that could be used by all fire services." Lewis says that industrial fires often require specialist equipment to deal with them. "Yet often a fire-fighter will go to an incident without specific experience in that particular type of hazard. At the same time, members of other fire brigades may well possess that very knowledge. The idea was to pool that knowledge and learn from it, both in training and in a decision-support context." RIMSAT involved project partners in France, Spain and the UK, including UK fire services. The project worked in particular with five major regional and city fire brigades in the UK. A prototype database system was developed, which included methods of gathering the knowledge, formatting the data, case-based reasoning and model-based reasoning. 'Units of experience' The prototype system is based on a 'units of experience' approach in which, after the event, a fire-fighter describes the context and collects observations into lessons learnt. These observations are broken down into individual knowledge units, which can subsequently be applied to other incidents. "One incident may give rise to some ten to twenty units of experience," says Lewis. "Subsequently a fire-fighter can search the database according to specific criteria, for example acid spillage from a road tanker, a factory producing detergent, and so on, in order to find out how other forces have dealt with the problem in the past." The prototype RIMSAT system runs on a normal PC. However, states Lewis, the ultimate ambition is to make it available as an 'at incident' decision-support tool, in which the information could be displayed via a sophisticated interface such as a drop-down screen mounted onto a firemans helmet. By the conclusion of the project in March 2004, the RIMSAT partners had developed a knowledge system that incorporates both case-based and model-based reasoning. However the fire service partners in the project felt that the model-based reasoning aspect of the prototype slowed down the system, making its predictive abilities less suitable for use on the fire-ground. ,Project method enters into service ,However, RIMSATs capabilities have been welcomed as a useful addition to the training environment. The West Midlands Fire Service in the UK, one of the project partners, has integrated the RIMSAT method of collecting post-incident experience into the work of the service. The UK national Fire Service College has also shown interest in the results of the project, especially in the 'units of experience' approach to knowledge gathering and data management. The college has now joined as a partner in a new, follow-up project called AMIRA, which aims to extend the concept of RIMSAT with the inclusion of speech dialogue and sophisticated search engine capabilities. Lewis continues to manage a special interest group on the KnowledgeBoard website dedicated to knowledge management in high-risk domains called the RIMSAT Critical Incident Management Forum. The contents are open to the general public, and have proven of interest to people from NASA, the police and organisations involved in terrorism management, as well as fire services around the world. Contact: ,RIMSAT Critical Incident Management Forum,Andrew Lewis ,Nemesia ,Ave Paul Vaillant Couturier 89-93 ,F-94250 Gentilly,France ,Tel: +33-1-41242751,Fax: +33-1-41242759,Email: RIMSAT solutions,Dr. Eric Auriol,Kaidara,15 rue Soufflot,F-75005 Paris,France,Tel: +33-1-53732325,Fax: +33-1-53732301,Email: Source: Based on information from RIMSATPublished by the IST Results service which brings you online ICT news and analysis on the emerging results from the European Commission's Information Society Technologies research initiative. The service reports on prototype products and services ready for commercialisation as well as work in progress and interim results with significant potential for exploitation.