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.


The first graphics that appeared on websites were static but not long after, animated images made their debut and dramatically changed the appearance from a simple picture to a website with movement and motion. New software applications would make it possible to easily create animated images that could produce banner message board graphics.

When it came to audio, websites first used simple audio "wav" files in the form of beeps or short sound effects. Larger audio files, high resolution graphics and video would be prohibitive until such time that connection speeds were sufficient.

Once telephone modems reached 56 kilobytes per second, speed and new software applications were developed, streaming audio and video files moved the fire service websites into a different medium. Websites became a means of streaming live radio transmissions via the internet. Through Real Audio, I was able to link a radio scanner to a server through our local internet provider and stream our fire department's radio traffic live which could be monitored from anywhere in the world. Today there are many departments that continue to do just that, where you can listen to their live radio transmissions. This year, most internet users are accessing the web via some sort of high speed connection, such as DSL, T1, fiber, etc..

The Y2K hysteria came and went without incident and without fanfare. In 2000, I was able to work with a local media company and develop an interactive tour that would let a website visitor seemingly walk from room to room and through a panoramic view, look around the room with a 360-degree view all through the control of a mouse. Taking that same technology, I was able to create a thermal image camera simulation and provide the ability for people browsing the web to "search" a room and locate the firefighter lying on the floor.

Early on, web search engines like Webcrawler and Lycos were the means to search for items of interest, but as search engines like Google, Yahoo and others emerged, internet searches became much more efficient and made finding items much more definitive and faster.

As the Internet was clearly not a fad and websites became an expectation: local, state and federal governments began to establish websites making a vast amount of information in the form of documents, reports and programs, including grants, available immediately at everyone's desktop. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy were no exception. One website that I am particularly proud is that of SAFECOM where a vast amount of interoperable communications information presently resides and is used to guide public safety organizations.

FEMA posted preparation information, the USFA posted fire safety information and on duty death information, and the NFA offered program information, online courses and a portal into the Learning Resource Center. The NFA also offers the online Degrees at a Distance program.

Websites specific to fire service effectiveness and safety include the International Association of Fire Chiefs which also now features IAFC TV., the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Volunteer Fire Service, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Everyone Goes Home website, the National Fire Academy Alumni Association and the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council to name a few.

As the evolution continues, today's websites are much more sophisticated and internet browsers using Flash and Shockwave technology enable access to enhanced content from many sources in the form of live entertainment, including radio and television. NBC even provides full vintage 'Emergency' television episodes for free on their website. Additionally, websites like Firehouse.com offer podcasts -- taped audio interviews and programs -- and live webinars which provide the ability for renowned speakers to reach thousands of people around the world over the internet.

The evolution of the Internet is huge and it is not possible to fully list all but here are a few quick references and examples to some of the most significant: Interactive training, online newsletters, geographic information systems global positioning systems, listservs which provide notification of information generally by subscribing (Emergency Email Wireless Network, Webwiser Chemical Search, the National Hurricane Center, situational awareness, multiple website viewing, Voice over IP and Radio over IP, Sytech Corporation and RSS feeds.