Y2K & Beyond: A Fire Service Vision

Charles Werner suggests ways in which forthcoming technological advances will help the fire service.


The new millennium will surely present many new and exciting technological advances. Looking toward the distant future, we may ask ourselves, "Will the need for fire departments be as significant as it is today?" New systems with precise detection combined with new non-toxic suppression agents...


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The new millennium will surely present many new and exciting technological advances.

Looking toward the distant future, we may ask ourselves, "Will the need for fire departments be as significant as it is today?" New systems with precise detection combined with new non-toxic suppression agents may be fully automated. Imagine that fire detection and suppression occur so quickly that no one ever knows there is a problem, until an alarm indicates where the problem was detected and corrected. When a situation escalates to a larger scale due to a technology glitch, a salvage crew is dispatched to clean up any remaining mess - everything is done without human intervention.

While this is not a realistic vision today, it may be in the future sooner than one might expect. By the year 2025, the fire service could envision Internet-automated fire monitoring and extinguishing systems, thermal image displays within every breathing apparatus facepiece and heads-up displays (HUDs) on the inside windows of fire apparatus. The HUDs will display maps, pre-fire drawings and other emergency-related information while units are responding to an incident. Self-activated foam application systems that automatically protect homes during wildfires may be required by code for homes within an urban interface zone.

Fire apparatus improvements will include radar monitoring that will alert if someone is in the vicinity prior to vehicle movement. Geographical positioning software (GPS) will become a part of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and be directly linked to computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. And watch for the continued development of "smart" protective clothing that keeps firefighters cool while at the same time monitoring vital life signs and breathing air supply and transmitting this to a monitoring officer for purposes of safety and accountability.

Communications equipment will become smaller and more versatile. These radio devices will connect each firefighter into a communications network that will allow communication with any radio user on an incident scene. The transmissions will serve as verbal audio and GPS locator signaling. Incident reports and administrative records will be maintained by voice-recognition software programs that eliminate the need to do any manual data entry. Fire stations will also be equipped with state of art physical fitness equipment. Uniforms will be interfaced with new heart-monitoring devices that can detect and provide early warning of a suspected heart anomaly. EMS equipment will be enhanced so that a device can diagnose a patient's vital signs and any abnormal body function by a simple handheld scanner.

Training will take today's simulations and place them into three-dimensional holographic chambers to provide realistic interactive incident command scenarios. The National Fire Academy (NFA) will become a much broader forum and will provide online programs that will include interactive teleconferences involving fire and EMS providers from around the world. The desired goal of technology will be to make every emergency service provider more effective by improving performance, reducing loss of life, reducing property damage and preventing line-of-duty deaths.

As this millennium comes to a close, let's look at technology that is already moving us in a positive direction to meet challenges of today and the future. A short list of highlighted items includes technology-based training, incident simulations, EMS pen-based reporting, new foam agents for wildfire applications, electronic accountability systems, intelligent staffing software solutions, thermal imaging technology and intelligent traffic-signaling systems.

In the area of training, fire and EMS agencies are beginning to take advantage of information technology. Use of the Internet, CD-reinforced training and distance-learning programs need to become the norm rather than the exception to enhance our existing methods of instruction. Fire and EMS station designs already include wiring for computer internet/intranet systems. This promotes the idea of turning dormitories into individual study areas.

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