The Internet and the Fire Service

The number of fire service websites had grown from less than 100 in 1995, to over 30,000 this year.


I first came across the Internet in 1995 and after designing the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department's website, it was very apparent to me that the Internet would have a significant influence on the fire service and public safety.

In 1995, when the Charlottesville Fire Department's website was posted on the World Wide Web (WWW), the Internet was still in its infancy and there were less than 100 fire service websites on the net.

Realizing the potential of the Internet, I wrote the first fire service article on the Internet for Firehouse Magazine (The Internet: A Global Fire Service, June 1996). Following that, I was asked to serve as a contributing editor for Firehouse on technology- related articles.

After observing the development of the Internet and other related applications such as e-mail and file transfers, I had numerous discussions with Firehouse Editor-in-Chief Harvey Eisner and Associate Publisher Jeff Barrington about the implementation of e-mail and a website for Firehouse Magazine.

While Harvey and Jeff were in full agreement, it wasn't until late 1998 or early 1999 that the corporate approval had come for e-mail, to be followed by the website -- later to become Firehouse.com. E-mail made it easier to communicate with the staff at Firehouse, send articles and upload graphics. Shortly thereafter, I was given the green light to bring a concept for a Firehouse Magazine website.

I had started a column in Firehouse Magazine called "Hot Spots on the Web," which became one of the first interactive features of Firehouse.com. Working that column I had run across the Hyattsville, MD, Fire Department website and was so impressed with it that I called Dave Iannone on the phone one Friday afternoon. I vividly remember that conversation as I introduced myself and asked, "How would you like to do a website for Firehouse Magazine?"

Dave thought I was joking, laughed and then asked me if I was serious. After a long pause and time for thought, he asked me what I was looking for and when did I need it. I explained that I needed a website with the look and feel of Firehouse Magazine and the deadline was by Monday morning (remember this was on Friday afternoon). Dave then said, "No thanks" and our conversation ended.

Several hours later, I received another call from Dave, and his first words were, "Go to this URL...." I turned my computer on, went to the website and to my surprise I saw the then current cover of the magazine in a website design. The concept of Firehouse.com was born.

From our very conversation, Dave's vision for the website was to be something far more than I ever imagined. While the initial investment in the site was frugal, that never stopped Dave from creating the ultimate fire service website. In 1999, I had the honor of writing the introductory article, "Firehouse Launches The Premier Emergency Service Website!" and the beginning of Dave Iannone's vision became real.

At that time, the Internet was still in its infancy for the emergency service community and as I recall, the number of fire service websites had grown from less than 100 in 1995, to over 5,000 in 1999 and over 30,000 in 2009. And referring back to my original article, the Internet has truly realized the concept of a global fire service with approximately 3,000 international fire service websites listed on Firehouse.com today. In 1999, the 'Net' enabled cell phone was an emerging technology (according to Hobbes Internet Timeline) whereas today these devices permeate the mobile wireless market.

In general, websites were fairly static with simple graphics, basic links and sometimes an e-mail address and were accessible via a low speed telephone modem. For the most part, websites were a simple way to establish an Internet presence and a way to tell about a company/organization with pertinent location and contact information. Websites quickly began to evolve with more interactive features such as chat rooms and forums and Firehouse.com provided some of the first and most comprehensive forums for the emergency service community.

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