Fire engine stuck in traffic - image by William Murphy

If there was a fire in your house, how long would it take a fire engine to reach you?

How about two fire engines? Ten?

It’s a question insurers need to answer if they are to provide effective cover.

The Fire Protection Association is the UK’s national fire safety organisation, with a particular focus on fire safety management for emergency professionals. We also worked on this project with the Risk Insight, Strategy and Control Authority (RISCAuthority), an organisation for the advancement of risk management within the fire and security sectors.


Just how quickly could fire engines reach a given postcode in case of a fire? It’s a question that’s pivotal to decisions made by both the emergency services and the insurance industry. But previously, it has been a challenge to present the data simply, because it involves so many variables.

Every region has its own factors, each of which will impact on fire engine response time. The number of vehicles at each station, the hours during which the station is manned, and the response policy of each individual fire authority will all play a part – and that’s before you even consider how geography might affect things.

The RISCAuthority approached us with this question: how could we map this crucial, yet complicated data in a way that could be understood by their members at a glance?

It was clearly a job for Mapumental. Our transit-time mapping software was originally built to visualise public transport journey times, but its beauty is that ‘layers’ of data can be swapped out, allowing it to be used for all kinds of purposes.


With RISCAuthority, we tested the concept using data from one fire authority – Hertfordshire. mySociety’s task was to create a usable, elegant web interface that was as simple as possible to use, while still giving insurers the key data they needed.

The project called on everything we knew about clean design, usability and data structures. A key part of what makes Mapumental’s data visualisation so intuitive are its sliders: this enables the user to quickly explore variables on a map.


FPA-2The end result was an in-browser interactive tool, designed to be immediately comprehensible for anyone at any level of knowledge of the fire services.

A user inputs a postcode, and, with the resulting maps, can assess exactly how quickly a fire could be tackled in that area. The different levels of severity are measured by how many response vehicles are required, and changes in this number are immediately reflected on the map.

It’s also possible to assess the region’s overall response capability, without inputting a postcode. The user sets severity levels (number of fire engines, or High Volume Pumping or Aerial Appliance (ladder) is needed), the time and day of the week.

The FPA tool immediately highlights the areas that are accessible within the chosen parameters, drawing on the underlying data of journey times and information such as vehicle numbers and hours of operation for each individual fire station in the region.

It’s just one more example of how transit-time information can become much easier to understand and act upon, when viewed on a map.

Dr Glockling, Technical Director at the Fire Protection Association and Head of the RISCAuthority explains:

This information helps insurers administer risk control and fire protection advice to their customers in the context of what the Fire and Rescue Services will be able to achieve on their behalf.

In the longer term it is hoped such information will impact beneficially on the annual cost of fire in the UK.

Could Mapumental help you, too? Drop us a line

Image: William Murphy (CC)