I thought I was a little bit technically savvy, but I must have been under a shell somewhere. In the last couple of months, I have begun to realize how little I knew about how the Internet is used by those in the fire and EMS profession. I am now starting to feel the way many parents must have felt when it came time to program the time on their VHS player. It was easier for them to just let it flash "12:00."
I always thought the Internet was something that you could use to read the local newspaper, search for people from high school or send an e-mail to someone in Eastern Europe without being charged for postage. But something has happened in the past six months. I started getting e-mails from people I know who wanted me to join their "network." Join their network? I had no idea what that meant, so I clicked on the links and I found out why my daughter and son talk so much about Facebook. Facebook opened a whole new world of networking with people I know in fire and EMS. Not only did I know all these people in fire and EMS, but the more I made "friends" with people in fire and EMS on Facebook, the more their "friends" who are also in fire and EMS wanted to make "friends" with me. I also found out that all my "friends" constantly write messages and post fire or EMS videos or pictures that I can see.
Then I started getting invitations to join "groups." I had no idea there were so many special-interest "groups" on Facebook. Not only was I able to join my current fire department's (Memphis) "group," but my former fire department's (St. Louis) "group." When I joined my former fire department's "group," I got more invitations to make "friends" with people I have not seen or talked to in years. How exciting it was to connect with people from years gone by, share pictures, tell stories or remember those who are no longer with us. Besides my current and former fire department "groups," I was able to join "groups" such as "Facebook Firefighters," "Facebook Paramedics" and "Union Firefighters."
Here's another thing about Facebook â?? just when I thought I did not have enough time to do what I have to do, it's a full-time job just to stay up on all the messages. And no wonder â?? according to statistics, Facebook has over 175 million registered users.
But Facebook is not the only network for which I have received invitations in the past six months. LinkedIn is another networking website where a lot of people seem to be depositing their information and asking you to join their network. The people who ask you to join their network search you out by keywords in your profile. Once you are connected, you become of their "connections" and they access whatever information you have put in your profile. Fire chiefs really seem to use LinkedIn to stay connected with each other.
According to research I did, Linked-In had over 35 million registered users as of February 2009. Other capabilities of LinkedIn include potential employers or executive search firms seeking you out based on what is in your profile.
But these social and professional networking uses of the Internet are not all that are available to fire and EMS professionals. There is plenty of educational and fun material out there to learn, including sites such as MySpace and YouTube.
There are now webinars, which are web conferences to conduct live meetings or seminars. Many podcasts and webinars can be found on Firehouse.com. One of more prominent ones on the Firehouse.com website is Billy Goldfeder's "Through the Smoke." Billy usually interviews someone on a current and hot topic in the fire service. One I saw recently featured an interview with former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Dave Paulison as he prepared to step down.
A podcast website for those who manage EMS operations is EMSgarage.com. Although most of those who participate are not fire-based EMS people, they still discuss relevant and current EMS issues. Another website that contains a lot of videos and educational material for the fire service is IAFCTV.org. Operated by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the website contains a large selection of videos from various IAFC conferences and various specialty videos related to EMS, wildland firefighting, training and education, plus more.
Download these podcasts to your iPod and you can listen to them while on the go, driving in the car or exercising.
Do a little searching and you'll find vast quantities of other information, podcasts, videos, and other websites where the availability of fire and EMS can almost be overwhelming and exhaustive.
I find myself more and more consumed with finding the time to manage all the information coming to me. And unless I am getting too old and losing my memory, I seem to not be able to retain everything that I am bombarded with every day. It is a task just to sift through all the information. Good surfing to you!
GARY LUDWIG, MS, EMT-P, a FirehouseÂ® contributing editor, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis, TN, Fire Department. He has 30 years of fire-rescue service experience. Ludwig is chairman of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), has a master's degree in business and management, and is a licensed paramedic. He is a frequent speaker at EMS and fire conferences nationally and internationally, and can be reached through his website at www.garyludwig.com.