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Due to the fire service's lack of compliance with safety standards that private industry and civilians must meet, more mandates will be imposed on the fire service in general and particularly on emergency vehicle operators. Areas that will and must be addressed are commercial drivers tests and licenses, medical examinations, random drug testing, emergency vehicle driver training and an annual DOT heavy-duty truck inspection for every piece of fire apparatus in operation in this country.
Traffic control pre-emption systems will become more affordable and will be protecting many more intersections. Along the same line, safety warning systems will be integrated into motor vehicles in the next century, which will result in smart cars. This technology enables drivers to receive signals warning them of a variety of road hazards and special traffic conditions. The technology is readily available today in the newest generation of "Smart" radar detectors. When an emergency vehicle is moving with its warning lights activated, the message, the safety warning system's receiver will display "Emergency Vehicle in Transit." When the system is integrated in motor vehicles, it will sound an audible alarm, as well as provide a visual message that an emergency vehicle is within the danger zone. When embraced by vehicle manufacturers, this technology could virtually eliminate emergency apparatus accidents involving civilian vehicles.
Finally, fire apparatus into the next millennium will go full circle when the present-day attitude that "bigger apparatus must be better" will fall by the wayside. Not because we will become wiser, but rather out of necessity - the necessity of being able to drive our fire apparatus in all parts of our cities and towns in a timely and safe fashion, while negotiating through streets that are more crowded and congested than ever before. The recent resurgence of tiller apparatus will continue, as fire departments try to balance their ability to carry needed personnel and equipment with the need to get the apparatus to the fire scene quickly, yet safely.
May all of us in fire service strive to find better and safer ways to deliver our services in the war that never ends, as we travel into the next millennium.
Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an FDNY lieutenant in Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx and a firefighter in the Howells, NY, Fire Department. He is an adjunct instructor at the New York State Academy of Fire Science and the Orange County Fire Training Center. Wilbur has developed and presented emergency vehicle operator courses throughout the country and has consulted on a variety of fire apparatus issues.