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Technology focuses certainly have changed and new issues raised since Sept. 11. While some things change, other concerns remain. Technology issues that remain the same include funding for research and development for improvements to personal protective equipment (PPE), radio communications, thermal imaging, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), fire suppression agents, and chemical and biological monitoring devices.
The best technology, along with research and development, must be available to enable the fire service to effectively and safely defend our homeland with new and improved PPE that will address chemical, biological and radiological threats. Not an easy task. The idea suggested by Weldon is promising – new technology that provides instantaneous and precise digital accountability and tracking of firefighters working at an emergency scene would be a monumental improvement.
As far as technology thoughts for the future, here are a few for everyone to cogitate on:
Personal Protective Equipment
- Personal alert safety system (PASS) devices with wireless technology linked to portable radios that can automatically send out an emergency signal to the incident commander and to dispatch while simultaneously providing precise digital locations, vital signs, etc.
- Diagnostic systems that could be applied to an EMS patient or a firefighter to provide wireless digital information transfer to a centralized system both locally (on scene) and remotely to a records-management system and hospital.
- Development of remote sensing devices for chemicals (both common and chemical warfare agents). This device would allow for atmospheric sensing by first responders at safe distances.
- SCBA facepiece heads-up displays that show a user available air, external temperature and thermal image capability and that has built-in external sensing devices for chemical, biological and radioactive exposures.
- Development of new materials for PPE that are more pliable, more durable, less likely to accumulate products of combustion, easy to decontaminate and help to maintain safe body temperatures while operating in extreme heat and extreme cold environments.
- Portable radios equipped with precise locator capabilities to locate personnel and to perform automatic PAR ID, alert and status.
- A national emergency radio communications system that would allow for multiple agency response and interoperability across agency/jurisdictional boundaries.
- Palm-like technology built into portable radios that would allow for digital transmission of work being done in the field such as EMS information, fire prevention inspections, and life safety and other code enforcement.
Vehicles & Apparatus
- Intelligent vehicle devices such as anti-crash devices that utilize radar-like technology to warn drivers of approaching vehicles and obstacles. The same could be applied to rear of vehicle to prevent movement of vehicle with a person or obstacle in its path.
- Thermal image display options available on fire apparatus windshields (like Cadillac) to provide visibility in brushfire situations and to see people, animals or other obstacles when responding on rural incidents during poor- or zero-visibility environments such as smoke, fog and at night.
- Built-in monitoring sensors on fire apparatus for automatic detection of chemical, biological and radiological agents that would warn emergency personnel that they have entered a dangerous environment.
- In-station physical fitness equipment that would provide for aerobic conditioning while also monitoring for potential physiological problems.
Keep in mind that the fire service’s visibility is very high now, but as life returns to the normal that we are accustomed, that support and funding may quickly disappear. For that reason, it is imperative that everyone send a loud and clear message to your local, state and national elected officials requesting their support for the funding that is so desperately needed by the fire service.
The opportunity has never been greater for the fire service to be heard. Please take a moment to send letters expressing your request that fire service funding be supported in a major way. The firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice on, before or after Sept. 11 stand as an everlasting flame which symbolizes fire service commitment to our nation and serve as a never-diminishing reminder to elected officials for the need and importance of their support.