Smart Data for Smarter Fire Protection

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Bart van Leeuwen, a senior firefighter from Amsterdam, was the featured speaker at the 2016 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. He spoke about his quest to leverage big data so that firefighters and community members are as safe as possible from fire. He said it it entails more than simply putting lots of data in a firefighter’s hand. Data has to apply to real world circumstances, offer real world solutions – and work in real time.

Van Leeuwen is particularly well suited to make the connection between data and firefighting. He is a partner in the smart data group at, a Dutch company specializing in operational information delivery, and is also a senior firefighter for the city of Amsterdam.

Firefighters arriving at an incident may have only seconds to assess important variables for fire attack, van Leeuwen said, but they must often consult a variety of data sources using different tools and interfaces to get the information they need. Streamlining and connecting those data sources, he said, is key to getting the right information into responders’ hands as quickly as possible.

Van Leeuwen advocated for access to the data itself as a means of accomplishing this task. “Don’t just offer me an app—offer me the data,” he said, adding that open access via the web could be the most effective way of making the information available to users.

Despite his belief in the power and potential of all that information, van Leeuwen stressed that it’s still only one tool among many that responders have at their disposal. “Don’t just rely on what you see on the screens,” he told the audience. Ultimately, he said, the smartest data may be the information you gather with your own eyes and the experience you bring to a particular situation.


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