In Westminster, MA, the fire department uses Laserfiche primarily to convert its retention of documents from paper to digital storage. For Fire Chief Brenton Macaloney, installing Laserfiche proved vital to saving time, money and headaches when the town suffered a total loss of electronic data.

The Westminster Fire Department began using digital data in 1985. Since most fire departments predate electronic data by decades if not centuries, the 1980s brought a wave of digitizing data to fire departments across the country. Fire departments generally use records management systems designed specifically for the firefighting field, although according to Chief Macaloney, there’s no particular consistency when it comes to vendors and most departments keep paper records as well.

“Ultimately, you end up with this mishmash of electronic data and paper data,” he says.

This combination of paper and electronic data proved fortunate for Westminster. “We had a catastrophic failure of our records management system software,” Macaloney remembers, “which caused us not to have any electronic data from the mid-eighties all the way through the year 2000.”

Since Westminster had always kept paper copies of their records, the department could retrieve the paper copies. But resuming digital data storage was a challenge. After the software failure, Westminster was ready to switch vendors and converting data from one system to another was complicated, even with two systems designed for fire departments. Changing over to another fire-response software system for records management would have required rewriting massive amounts of code, which would have been very expensive.

“Transitioning systems wasn’t an issue for me,” he recalls, “because I decided to go out and secure Laserfiche to be my system for records storage and retrieval.”

Chief Macaloney, who had only a massive number of paper records to work with, knew he needed a common way to look at and retrieve data. “Before installing Laserfiche, I had no consistent way to retrieve information regarding any incident without someone telling me specifically the date and time that it happened,” he says. “When we lost our electronic data, we had no ability to look up public records and fulfill a public records request. Laserfiche provided a mechanism to scan the data, retain it, retrieve it, sort it and search it—and not just the records from 1985 forward, but everything. Now I can log into Laserfiche and pull up an incident in seconds.”

So far, the department has scanned in documents from 2002 to the present and is going back in time with the goal of scanning in all their paper records. To that end, Westminster has developed an innovative program that benefits the fire department and senior citizens alike. “In Massachusetts,” Macaloney says, “any city or town that chooses to adopt the provisions of the state law may reduce the tax levy on property for senior citizens who fall within certain income limits. We’ve utilized senior workers in the fire department in the past, but lately we’ve had them scanning in documents, under the direction of my administrative secretary. We record their work hours and send them to town hall and the town abates their taxes. The good news goes beyond our happiness with Laserfiche itself. We’ve been able to use this program to everyone’s benefit.”

Laserfiche also helps the fire department save money in an unexpected way—on envelopes and stamps. “Some of the documents we scan in are for ambulance transports. That information has to be sent to a billing company. We worked out an agreement with our billing company that when we scan in those documents, we FTP the data over to their site, so we no longer have to mail them the paper documents. So in addition to the good things you have about document management and retrieval, there are the secondary things that we didn’t anticipate, such as sending the electronic file for the billing company to process. We save time and the money we’d spend on envelopes and stamps. That’s a big gain right there.”

The fire department initiated the establishment of a network for the city, and built it, running the fiber-optic cable across the parking lot to city hall. Now firefighters in the field can call up documents on their laptops and read information pertinent to the fire sites. “That will become even more important in the future,” says Macaloney, “when we scan in documents such as permits that have never been electronic documents. The network is seamless. It ties alarm receiving to dispatch to records. And it sends an email to my cell phone notifying me of the alarm. Everything is retrievable through the network from the building or anywhere with access.”

It’s clear that Westminster’s technical innovations have far-ranging benefits for everyone from firefighters in the field to senior citizens working to abate their taxes. The technical savvy shown by this town of 8,000 proves that innovation isn’t the sole province of large municipalities. With the police department and town hall in line to integrate with the system, Laserfiche has been and will continue to be an integral part of the town’s success.