Back to blogHow Intterra Uses Big Data and Machine Learning – Data Science to Bring Knowledge to Fire Agencies


Helping firefighters and the communities they protect is our mission. And using data to analyze current performance metrics and agency capabilities helps the fire service team improve public safety for everyone.

One data initiative Intterra recently completed was the fall semester sponsorship of the Rice University “D2K’ (Data 2 Knowledge) Lab in Houston Texas.  Over the course of a semester, we led a group of 5 data science students who utilized machine learning techniques to look at how response data correlated with time, location and  community census data in ways that would help us all predict the when and where of emergencies.

First off, the students were amazing – thoughtful, motivated, and way into the idea of helping firefighters. We ripped a page out of the ICS book and each week the student team had a different Incident Commander that led the team through that week’s learning and group presentation. We had great conversations about the quality and availability of data from the fire service (lots of room for improvement there, CAD companies! ) as well as how the fire service brings value to their communities in ways that aren’t always obvious (hello, Community Risk!).

Click here to read the full report from the D2K Lab: Preventing Disasters Before They Happen – Demographic Risk Factor Identification for Well-Informed Community Risk Reduction Plans

And at the end of the term, there was a judged competition between the 10 teams of students that showcased what they had accomplished in their various projects, the machine learning techniques they used, and what they achieved as students. Intterra’s team won one of the two awards – (Audience Choice Award and team photo). At Intterra, our goal is to build vision and knowledge within the fire community – whether that’s the latest feature, new ways of looking at old problems, or busting down data doors that keep us all from sharing and learning. That’s why we will keep investing in efforts like this data science sponsorship with 20-somethings that will never be first responders but bring the same passion for data that our clients bring to the firefight.

An all-star team of data scientists, engineers, policy researchers, and social scientists set out to develop a strategic roadmap to achieve long-term goals for improving public fire service. Using large amounts of data from across the country along with the FDL—the Rice D2K Lab and Intterra set out to analyze fire departments across the country while addressing specific problems and challenges.

The Rice D2K lab was created as an opportunity to provide students with engagement, enrichment, and experiential learning opportunities using real-world data from companies and organizations. Intterra and WFCA partnered with Rice University’s D2K Lab as part of a capstone program on data science. Here’s what they discovered throughout the course of their capstone program.

How the WFCA and Intterra are Partnering Together

In 2017, a group of fire departments joined Intterra and the WFCA to create the Fire Data Lab (FDL) to help accelerate the use of data-driven decision making in the fire service. Using near real-time analytic tools the agencies created a collaborative environment to identify trends and develop new strategies to improve community safety standards and resource allocation.

Intterra and the WFCA partnered with Rice University’s Data to Knowledge program (D2K Lab) to explore advances in data science and analytics. The FDL integrated data from approximately 30 fire departments and agencies to help support community standards. To help analyze the data—the FDL enlisted the assistance of Rice University’s Data Science Program.

Here’s some of the goals the D2K Lab and WFCA partnership hoped to accomplish:

  • Short-term research: provide students with data to perform quick assessments for finding new ideas and opportunities. Intterra has access to a broad scope of data related to challenges faced by fire departments and agencies.
  • Department performance reviews: using information gathered to determine what makes for a successful fire department within the community.
  • Identifying problem areas in the community: opioid epidemic, the impact of homelessness, emergency medical services, public safety.

The fire service community is just beginning to use data to solve community problems and issues. The partnership between Intterra, WFCA, and Rice University allows researchers to use data to solve community wide issues. As a result fire service teams are better equipped to solve systemic issues while improving public safety within the community.

How Students Used Real-World Fire Science Data

Rice University’s D2K lab is known as a center that uses data science to transform data into real world knowledge. The D2K program uses data provided by real companies to perform data research analysis. Students then utilize data as a decision making tool to help solve real world problems.

Intterra sponsors a D2K Learning Lab team with five members consisting of undergrad, masters, and PhD students. Rice students use data sets from FDL to address open research questions from Intterra and various fire department teams.

Here’s some examples of data use amongst the D2K learning lab team:

  • Cross-community comparisons across agencies to analyze metrics to help improve department performance
  • Using dispatch data to develop optimal fleet allocation and maintenance systems
  • Using data to request more funds to increase resources

Rice University was able to provide relevant information and decision making tools to Intterra which was used to develop future software programming. Rice’s D2K Lab was successfully able to implement information from other fire departments as a tool for gathering resources and answers. Along with industry partners in the energy sector, finance, and tech—Rice’s D2K Lab analyzed real world scenarios, situations and problems using specific data science tech skills.

The Impact within the Community

The D2K Lab has had a profound impact on various fire service agencies within the community. By allowing fire departments to analyze how other cities have been impacted by systemic issues—leaders can discover and implement strategies to optimize community resource allocation.

The fire service community is only beginning to use data to solve widespread problems. The partnership between Intterra, Rice, and WFCA allows researchers to utilize fire service data to help solve existing real-world problems. Research initiatives allow data to be used amongst data science and engineering personnel to develop a foundation of information to improve public service.

Fire agencies utilized the data collected from various unrelated fire incidents in situations including:

  • Medical emergencies
  • Homelessness
  • Mental illness cases
  • Local crime

Research gathered from D2K helped fire agencies partner with other organizations to improve safety, public service, and well-being within the community. As a result—increased efficiency can help drive utilization of resources and decision making. Data was also used for staffing models and creating predictions/trends to help drive forecast future resource distribution.

How Intterra is Using Data to Better Serve Customers

The fire service industry is made up of departments that share information, connect, and learn from one another. Intterra is helping fire agencies improve communication strategies while helping communities become safer and more efficient. Intterra empowers companies with insights and analytics to accomplish mission goals safely and effectively.

The Rice University D2K Program is a “win-win!” The students wrangle with real-life fire department data that has a meaningful impact in communities, and the fire service benefits from a team of students and professors that apply cutting edge data science deepening our collective knowledge.

The Rice University D2K project got the fire service closer to predictive analytics. If ever, it is rare for a fire department to have the staffing or capability to apply machine learning to their data. It is even more complex to combine that data with other data repositories. The Rice University D2K project did just that by combining the FDL data with American Community Survey (ACS) data. They were able to identify features in the ACS data predictive of the incident count per thousand of population.

Intterra is continuing to help the fire service community understand how data can be used to solve problems while fostering a culture of empowering agencies to use it effectively. With the help of the Rice D2K lab—fire service leaders are now able to use state-of-the-art research to create a positive community impact.

To read more on how Intterra partnered with WFCA and Rice University’s D2K Lab for a capstone program about data science, click here.

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