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New tool gives emergency responders onsite farm information via QR code

A new interactive Web tool allows farmers to map their farms to provide emergency responders with on-site information about hazards and physical layouts, which could save time and lives.
Farm Mapping to Assist, Protect and Prepare Emergency Responders (Farm MAPPER) is a pilot project of the National Farm Medicine Center (NFMC) at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF). The active project area is covered by the Pittsville Fire Department, which played a key role in development and field testing.

“Emergency personnel responding to farm fires face the challenge of fighting a fire in complex and unknown environments,” said Jerry Minor, Pittsville fire chief. “They face hazards such as fuels, solvents, pesticides, caustics and exploding welding and gas storage cylinders.”
Minor said firefighters may arrive at a farm and not know locations of water sources, power cutoffs and animal locations. Even manure ponds, when frozen and covered in snow, may be hidden hazards to an uninformed responder, he said.

Critical information now is accessible to Pittsville first responders through a QR code sticker generated for each farm and placed on a mailbox pole or other nearby location. These matrix bar codes are read by a smartphone and other devices, such as a tablet with a reader application. The Pittsville Fire Department is the only department now able to read Farm MAPPER codes.

Farm-specific information is protected by a secure log-on known to the emergency responders and is visible only to the farmer and emergency responders. MCRF’s Biomedical Informatics Research Center led the technical development of Farm MAPPER.

“Mapping of farm hazards and responder resources has been done before but putting important rescue and hazard information in the hands of emergency responders through the use of QR codes hasn’t been done that we are aware of,” said Dr. Matthew Keifer, NFMC director.

This pilot project was funded through a $20,000 grant from the Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety-Continuing Education at the University of Minnesota, along with NFMC donor dollars and significant volunteer time from Pittsville Fire Department.

“We intend for this project to be the first of several projects applying QR tags in rural and agricultural health and safety settings,” Keifer said.

Future projects might include QR codes with extrication instructions on equipment, so responders could efficiently disassemble equipment if a person is trapped. Additionally, a farm map that includes locations of farming activities, such as outlying fields, could quickly guide rescue personnel to an injury victim.

Instructions for using Farm MAPPER are at www.nfmcfarmmapper.com. A sample account can be accessed through username “NFMCtest” and password “test123.” Click on “Farm Map” in the right-hand column to see a layout of the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield Agricultural Research Station and a map already populated with hazard icons.

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