Internet: A Global Fire Service

Members of the Virginia fire service tell how fire fighters can tap into a vast, worldwide network.


The Internet has become a part of our daily lives. It seems that almost everywhere you look today there is a website address ( http://www.cstone.net/firedept ). What is the Internet, where did it come from and what does it mean to the fire service? Before we can really understand what "Internet...


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The Internet has become a part of our daily lives. It seems that almost everywhere you look today there is a website address (http://www.cstone.net/firedept). What is the Internet, where did it come from and what does it mean to the fire service?

Before we can really understand what "Internet" means, we must define it. The Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) are often thought synonymous yet they are quite different. The Internet is a vast networking of various computer systems and programs. The WWW is a small, but probably the best known, part of the Internet.

A Brief History

While most of the public thinks the Internet was born in 1994, let's take a look back. The Internet was believed to be born out of the building of a U.S. Department of Defense computer network known as Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The project explored packet switching in the hope of keeping the Defense computers operational during a nuclear war. This system was challenged to operate under the most adverse conditions (while some system segments were destroyed or jammed). In addition, this communications network could not be developed with a traditional hierarchic pyramid if it were to survive a holocaust.

To accomplish the feat of allowing independent and non-standardized computer systems to communicate modem to modem it was necessary to develop a set of rules, called protocols, to translate data into a common tongue and to move information. This set of protocols became known as TCP/IP, or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. When was the Internet born? Last year, many groups celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Internet but this by no means "officializes" its birth date. Others would suggest that the Internet was really born as a result of the TCP/IP standards, which occurred in 1973. In any case, we know that the Internet is over 20 years old and well on its way of opening countless new doors for everyone.

In recent years, the number of users on the Internet has increased by approximately 20 percent per month faster than any other communication scheme, including cellular telephones and fax machines, but growth which, at least for quite a while, was largely unnoticed by the public. This, of course, is no longer true. The Internet has gone prime-time. The Internet today also connects to Telnet, Archie, Gopher and ftp programs. Estimates of the size of the Internet range from 10 million to 40 million users worldwide. No one really knows exactly how large it is or is becoming, and there is no practical way to find out.

The Internet & The Fire Service

Now that we have provided an overview, it's time to become aware of what resources are out there for the fire service and how they may be used.

The most useful part of the Internet for the fire service is the World Wide Web. The Web offers a vast array of resources. There are links to numerous fire departments around the world as well as to agencies and organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Fire Academy, American Red Cross, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), National Weather Service and many emergency service link pages. This provides instantaneous access to a large volume of information disaster preparation, hurricane preparation, research data, manufacturer information, statistical data even up-to-date hurricane tracking maps from various weather services.

You can also download information, pictures, graphics and software programs for free. Many "freeware" (free to download and distribute) programs are equivalent or better than commercial software sold in stores. The Web is also a place where your department can "strut its stuff," provide safety information to the community and even be interactive. Your website can be simple and relatively maintenance free or more complicated and require constant updates. The choice is made by each department.

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