Step Right Up. It’s Showtime

Editor's Note: This is the first blog by's Ed Ballam, who is the associate editor - industry news & products. Check back as this fire service veteran blogs about new and innovative products, what's happening with manufacturers and more.

Whenever I come back from a fire trade show, like Firehouse Expo, which is fast approaching or FDIC, which ended just a bit ago, everybody at my station wants to know what I saw that was new.

And the answer is almost always lots. If what was shown at the 85th annual Fire Department Instructors Conference is any indication, there will be lots of new stuff to see during the whole fire show season this year.

One of the hallmarks of a fire trade show is the debuting of new and innovative products. From the latest technological advances in SCBAs, to improvements to nozzles to innovations in apparatus, there’s stuff for everyone to look at and handle.

It is next to impossible to say what is the most impressive at any given show, but you can be sure the manufacturers and vendors are out to dazzle firefighters and officers with the absolute latest and ground breaking appliances, and gizmos out there anywhere. Something you might be scratching your head at this year’s show, will be next year’s must-have item that has everyone wondering how fires were extinguished previously.

A trend at this year’s show has been innovations and technology permeating the fire service. We used to think that joystick controls were cutting edge on fire apparatus controls, but now interactive touch screens, like you find on the latest smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly employed on all kinds of firefighting tools and apparatus.

Rosenbauer America, a growing apparatus maker here in the U.S., displayed a touch screen pump panel at FDIC this year. Yup, you heard it right, a touch screen that opens and closes valves, increases pressure and engine speed and all the other typical controls you’d find on a conventional pump panel. It’s amazing to think that it wasn’t that long ago, electronics were avoided like the plague when it came to water and pump operations. First, there were electric valves, operated by motors or hydraulics, and then there were electronic pressure governors. Now, the latest evolution incorporates touch screen operations.

When I first saw the touch screen control panel, which looks a lot like a television screen, complete with a virtual image of the pumper to help the operator keep track of which discharge was being used, I quipped that I wanted a recliner and remote. While the recliner might be out of the question, I was told a remote was not far off. It would give the pump operator the ability to move around the apparatus and see what’s going on. It would also allow the operator to sit inside the climate controlled cab and still have complete control of the pump. Where I live and fight fires it got to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit this past winter and I’ll tell you I would have appreciated that feature.

Sticking with pump operations for a bit, Waterous is now showing off a one-step compressed air foam system that does everything to set up CAFS operations with just a push of a single button. For all the advantages of CAFS, it’s been a challenge to get the air, water and foam mixture perfect. Even experienced operators can be challenged with varying static and residual pressure as the computer seeks to balance the ratios.

That, however, is all gone according to Waterous whose representatives say the company’s new system only requests the operator to choose wet or dry foam. That’s it. Again, technology has made our lives easier.

On the other end of the hose is, of course, the nozzle. Task Force Tips (TFT) is arguably one of the most innovative water appliance companies out there today and the company is now showing, and selling, what it calls the most innovative nozzle in over 150 years.

It’s called the FlipTip and the name goes a long way to saying revealing what the nozzle does. With a twist of a quarter-turn detent locking collar, the front end of the combination, selectable or automatic nozzle flips down revealing a smooth bore nozzle back near the pistol grip.

Gone is the argument and debate over whether to have the combination/fog nozzles on the preconnects or smooth bore. You can have both. It’s pretty cool to see. I’d recommend you go look at one yourself and you’ll see the innovation first hand.

Vendors are always more than happy to take your information and send materials, and even organize demonstrations of virtually any product. That’s what my department did. After a few of us saw the FlipTip at a small regional show, we asked for a demonstration and the sales rep was more than happy to come out on a Monday evening and show us his stuff. A neighboring department came down too and we made it a pumping drill and flowed water while we tested the nozzles. We learned a lot and it’s helping us make the decision on what kinds of nozzles we’ll be using in the future.

Apparatus today are very sophisticated and filled with electronics to make operations safer and more efficient. E-ONE for instance, is now demonstrating and showing a very high tech collision avoidance system. It incorporates a camera/sensor system in the front bumper which detects objects in the apparatus’ path and adjusts speed and braking accordingly to avoid rear-end collisions. It’s a page from luxury car makers that E-ONE is introducing to the fire market. And, keeping on that page, E-ONE is also incorporating extensive air bag systems in apparatus, including front, side and even knee protection, all to keep firefighters safe. It’s great to see companies stepping up and doing the right thing to keep us safe.

Speaking of looking into the future, who among us would ever have thought aerial drones would become part of the fire service’s arsenal of tools? It wasn’t that long ago that drones were science fiction material. Well, maybe I’m showing my age a bit. There was a time when a 750-gpm pump was plenty and a 500-gallon tank was standard.  But I digress.

Of all manufacturers, W.S. Darley & Company, the people known for making pumps and fire apparatus and the catalog approach to selling fire equipment, is now showing off the Darley Drone at shows.  It’s a device designed and built in house and is now for sale to the fire service. Who would have thought?

The idea is to afford firefighters a bird’s eye view of fire scene and to provide surveillance information on wildland fires.

Innovation is all about keeping firefighters safe and allowing them to their jobs better and more efficiently.

Trade shows and those who attend them defy the cliché that suggest the fire service represents 200 years of tradition unencumbered by progress.

Strolling through any trade show will prove just how wrong that statement is. I encourage all firefighters interested in learning more about innovation, technology and progress to attend trade shows.

Two that are coming up soon include the New England Association of Fire Chiefs has its 91st annual Conference and Exposition coming up on June 21 through June 23 in Springfield, Mass. More information can be found by clicking here.

And Firehouse Expo, the largest fire service trade show and training conference on the East Coast, will be held from July 23 to July 27.  Go to for more information.

I encourage everyone even remotely connected to the fire service to make time to go to at least one trade show annually. It’s a great way to learn about the newest innovations and to receive training like none you’ve experienced previously.More than 275 exhibitors will be on hand to show you the latest stuff they have and you too can have your colleague asking you what you saw at the show.

Just step right up and do it. You’ll be glad you did.