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First Due, Seeking Firefighter IT Reinvention, Raises Funds

The startup’s roots are in hooking up fire agencies with building data. But in five years, it’s expanded into other areas of IT and dipped into EMS and police, too. With new investment, it hopes to double its headcount.

First Due firefighting software
Credit: First Due
First Due wants to give firefighters better intelligence about the blazing buildings they’re rushing into. It also wants to help improve most of the other IT systems firefighters rely on when they aren’t responding to a call. In addition, it wants to serve emergency medical services agencies. And police.

That’s an ambitious slate of projects for any startup, let alone one that’s just five years old. But the company has pulled in investment from Serent Capital, a private equity firm that’s turned its eyes toward gov tech in recent years, to make it all happen.

First Due isn’t disclosing the size of the round, but CEO and co-founder Andreas Huber described it as a “typical growth equity round” where Serent is taking a minority stake. With the funds, he wants to invest in strengthening the many cloud software products the company has put out, along with the others it has in the works.

“We turned the pre-incident planning problem on its head and reimagined it, and now we want to do that for the entire software stack for fire and EMS,” Huber said. “In order to do that, we need to double the team across the board, and Serent’s investment helps us do that, without taking too much risk doing it all organically.”

The company has its origins in tragedy: Huber told the story of an incident in Nassau County, N.Y., where a firefighter at an agency the company was working with fell through the floor of a house into the basement and died. Later they would learn the floor had a particularly vulnerable structure.

If the agency had had that information on hand, perhaps the firefighter would still be alive.

“That kind of stuff didn’t make sense to us, that crews … are running into buildings without knowing much about them, or the people inside, and figuring everything out on the fly when they get there,” Huber said.

Indeed, that information can be available — buildings go through a whole process of planning, permitting and inspection with local governments. So First Due made it their mission to connect fire departments with that information in a timely way.

In five years, the company has grown to serve nearly 300 U.S. agencies, including some very large ones such as the fire departments in Seattle, Wash.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Fort Worth, Texas.

The process they’re replacing tends to be manual and limited. Fire departments will identify high-risk structures — high-rises, schools and industrial sites, for example — and go out to collect information. Often they will draw by hand, and that information will then be digitized and stored. The process doesn’t necessarily involve planning or building department information that can be called up at a moment’s notice with the right IT architecture.

“It’s a pretty broken process, and it’s only going to be (for) the buildings that they can physically go out and visit,” he said.

By utilizing building data, the company can share information about those high-risk structures as well as the innumerable smaller structures they protect.

“There’s hundreds of different scenarios that could be going on, and no one has time to think about that, nor go searching for data,” Huber said. “So it’s like, what if we could pull the information from all these different places where the data already exists, tie it together, link it back to 911? And then show it to me in a form that I can consume with a glance, even if the computer in the truck is shaking.”

As it worked with more agencies, First Due realized its customers tended to work with legacy systems on their last legs to handle a variety of vital functions. So the company built software to handle shift scheduling. And asset management. And community engagement. The list goes on.

They built it all in the cloud, without turning to acquisitions to add more functionality faster.

“Doesn’t matter what part of the country you’re in, doesn’t matter whether you’re a massive career enterprise or a rural volunteer agency — everyone’s pounding the table wishing they had a single system that could manage all of their core operations,” Huber said.

Going forward, the company has its work cut out. It’s working on a way to automate data collection by hooking into connected vehicle systems, for example, as well as electronic patient care reporting.
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
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