To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
This column has created an internal struggle within my soul about technology issues for the fire service. While I have in the past looked well beyond the present technologies with a hopeful vision of new and exciting devices, I am reminded that many exciting new technologies already exist that would greatly benefit the fire service both in the areas of effectiveness and safety are NOT available to the fire service. This technology is that which has been developed by and for the military.
Specific technologies that evolved for a number of years but were not immediately available to the fire service include thermal imaging, radio communications, global positioning systems (GPS), digital identification/tracking systems for personnel, digital mapping and virtual reality simulations, to name a few.
Thermal imaging technology was developed by the military. When thermal imaging became available to the fire service, the early devices were large, awkward, heavy, expensive and already obsolete in the eyes of the military. Today, the military has elaborate simulators that allow for extensive planning prior to an attack by air, sea or ground. Imagine having the ability to put incident commanders and fire officers into simulations that would have been unthinkable before Sept. 11.
On the television program “Nightline,” International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) President John Buckman stated his concerns to Ted Koppel by saying, “For over six years, the fire service has requested a mask that was approved by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) for chemical attacks. To date, that mask still does not exist.” While this is not an overwhelming task for technology, it points out where the basic needs are not being met. Great technological breakthroughs sometimes mean nothing when the basic physiological protections are not in place.
There is hope and support rising in Congress and from federal agencies, but as Hal Bruno has stated so many times, the fire service must join collectively to keep this momentum moving forward and not let the fire service be forgotten. The first signs of successful recognition have been seen through what appears to be increases in the FIRE Act grant to the tune of $210 million in increased funding.
Another encouraging sign was evident in remarks made by Christie Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at an EPA Preparedness Conference in December 2001. Whitman sent a very clear message of cooperation, support and open dialogue between the federal agencies and first responders. “First, our greatest line of defense in the event of a chemical emergency are local responders,” she said. “The EPA is committed to insuring those on the front lines continue to have the tools, the resources and expertise they need in order to limit risks and accidents in chemical emergencies. We are committed to being your active partner.”
At the same conference, a warning about “dirty bombs” and “suitcase nukes” was sounded by the Congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania). Weldon expressed his support for technology and the fire service by saying, “The military has digitized our military by equipping every soldier with a transmitter. We have not only developed a prototype that will not just tell you where the soldier is on the battlefield, but will also give you that soldier’s vital signs.”
To explore further, other military reports have revealed that this digitized information also indicates the location of every piece of armament, every firing of a weapon and more. Weldon exclaimed, “WHY HASN’T THAT TECHNOLOGY AND OTHER TECHNOLOGIES MADE IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE TO OUR DOMESTIC RESPONDERS?” and went on to say, “When technology is developed for our military, our international defenders, that same technology must immediately be available to our domestic defenders … The first responders are not going to be the National Guard, the Marines or the EPA. The first responder is always going to be fire, EMS or law enforcement (department that) arrives first. We must give you the tools and resources that you need to deal with the threats in your states, cities and towns. To do anything less would be a disservice. The awareness is there. Now its time for us to respond.”