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Emergency planning

Samantha Metheny hadn’t known about the wall.

None of the firefighters she responded to the house fire with had. It wasn’t a detail afforded to them en route, a surprise that, instead, greeted them as they entered through the home’s front door and tried to go upstairs to the second story where the flames burned. The barrier, a walled-off section at the top of the stairway, forced the first responders to turn around and find another path.

“(We) realized they’d converted it to a house-and-a-half kind of thing with an apartment,” said Metheny, currently a deputy fire marshal with Medford Fire-Rescue.

Knowing about those types of details can make a significant difference to firefighters and paramedics responding to fires, medical emergencies and everything in between. Home layout and whether someone with special needs or mobility issues is inside can be tough to glean en route to or at the scene when literal seconds count, but it’s also crucial information. Medford Fire-Rescue and Jackson County Fire District 3 hope a new application they debuted last week will help give a leg up to first responders.

Community Connect is a voluntary program where residents and business owners in the Medford and Fire District 3 coverage areas can create a free online account and enter information they deem important in case of an emergency. The program costs $12,500 per year for each department, according to Fire District 3 community engagement coordinator Heather Sears. It’s part of a larger software suite called First Due, intended to manage the planning, response and follow up aspects of emergency response.

“Is there something unique about your home we need to know? Do you have a grandparent living with you that has diabetes or medical issue that needs some extra attention?” Sears said. “(Residents) are able to put in all that information.”

There’s plenty to choose from, down to photos, names and personality descriptions of pets.

“What are their names? Maybe that will help us,” Metheny said. “Or: ‘Don’t got in the backyard because Cujo’s back there.’”

Knowing exterior property layouts can also be helpful. Swimming pools, for example, are potential life hazards for firefighters donning heavy gear, especially at night, said Capt. Will Clelland of Fire District 3. If it’s known one’s there, firefighters can be wary. Updates can be made to each account over time if necessary.

“Every fire, there’s always a curve ball. This is going to be such a game changer for us,” Clelland said. “They’re going to be able to upload all kind of stuff. Instead of having to figure out where grandma’s sleeping, we know she’s upstairs on the right.”

The volunteered information is stored securely and is only used for emergency response purposes, officials said.

“(It’s) the same level as bank encryption,” said Brandon Rigaud, a lieutenant with the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety and a product manager for First Due. “We essentially use the same architecture to manage your information.”

Rigaud added that the software is HIPAA-compliant. Grants Pass has been utilizing portions of the First Due suite since October and is getting ready to go live with Community Connect soon.

“It’s kind of insight ahead of time,” Rigaud said. “It allows us to make smarter decisions.”

Medford residents can access the application at communityconnect.io/info/or-medford, while those in the Fire District 3’s communities can access it at communityconnect.io/info/or-firedistrict3. Grants Pass residents can see more information at communityconnect.io/info/or-grants-pass.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneFire district 3 Engineer Manny Gobel shows how a new program helps fire fighters approach locations for emergencies from computer inside a fire engine at the firehouse on Pine St in Central Point Monday.