Microsoft & IAFC Host First Fire Service Tech Summit

March 1, 2006

Do you feel overwhelmed by technology? Are you overwhelmed by the world of "information overload"? Are you having difficulty keeping up with the latest gadget? Do you know the meaning of RFID, CDMA, TDMA, EVDO, EDXL, CAP, IM, TREO, BB, GIS, GPS and so on? If your answers to the first three questions were yes and you found yourself wondering just what these abbreviations represent - then you are the problem!

While that statement is intended to be an exaggeration, it is an uncomfortable place where many of us find ourselves more often than we would like to admit. It often seems that we have just reached a level of competence with new technology when it changes and becomes obsolete. As fire service leaders, it is critically important to grasp the general knowledge of what is available, what can truly help your department or agency be more efficient and effective, and how to develop effective departmental technology strategies.

On Dec. 6 and 7, 2005, the first Fire Service Technology Symposium was co-hosted by International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and Microsoft Corp. at the company's Redmond, WA, headquarters. The symposium marks an acknowledgement by the IAFC that fire service leaders need more opportunities to learn about technologies and enhance their individual "Technology IQ" (TIQ).

IAFC President Chief Bill Killen stated, "IAFC is proud to be working with Microsoft to demonstrate to the fire and emergency services community the technologies available today that can help firefighters rise to the challenges of the 21st century. Our mission to develop prepared communities is more important than ever - we're confronted with new and more significant challenges as we face terrorism and natural disasters."

Going into the symposium development process, the measure of success set by Microsoft focused on the ability to reach an attendance of at least 150 fire service leaders from around the country. At the end of the two days, there were over 370 attendees, representing 36 states and four countries. This was the most attendees ever for a similar first-time Microsoft event.

The symposium also linked up with a powerhouse of partners that included Hewlett Packard, ESRI, Intergraph, E-SPONDER, Panasonic Touchbook, Motorola, BIO-Key, TRITECH, NC4 and E Team, FieldSoft, Deccan International, VISIONAIR, Public Aware, grooveNETWORKS, FDM Software, Firehouse Software, DCC, RAMSAFE Technologies, Sprint Together with NEXTEL and NetTalon.

Michael Byrne, executive director of Justice and Public Safety at Microsoft and a veteran New York City firefighter and Homeland Security executive, affirmed, "Microsoft recognizes that firefighters and emergency medical personnel are on the frontline of our safety and security. We, along with our industry partners, are committed to making sure the fire and emergency services community has the information they need, when and where they need it."

In an e-mail notification to this year's participants, Killen and Byrne announced that they have agreed to co-host the symposium again this year at Microsoft's headquarters, Dec. 6-7. Based on my personal experience and from the reviews of others who attended, you'd better put this on your calendar and sign up early.

In the meantime and while you are waiting for next year's symposium, here are a few tips that may help you with your technology endeavors:

  1. Identify and utilize people from within your department who are technology savvy. In many cases, much talent will be found with the youngest members of your department. Don't be reluctant to exploit their talents.
Develop a department technology committee. Increase your TIQ - read fire service trade magazines, read technology magazines, visit websites like, and attend symposiums and conferences. Visit the vendor exhibit areas at conferences. This is one of the best learning laboratories available. You can enhance your TIQ without spending a dime (although they would prefer otherwise). Identify technology that will truly improve the department's performance. Don't buy technology for technology's sake alone. Start small by starting with baby steps and developing successes. Regionalize technology solutions where practical. This will help by expanding the economy of scale and will improve chances for competitive grants. Explore technology solutions that are common to other agencies, especially in computer-aided dispatch, records management, situational awareness, communications, interoperability and information sharing/collaboration. When possible, keep it as simple as possible. The less training and technical support required, the higher degree of success and sustainability. Reach out to community technology partners. Many communities have technology associations or councils that can bring much in the way of knowledge and resources. Explore commercial applications such as broadband and other wireless services to enhance the existing primary mission-critical public safety radio systems. Involve your elected officials and create opportunities for them to be champions of your project(s). Don't let your lack of knowledge stand in the way of your department's progress. Openly admit your shortcomings and use the strengths of others. Publicize your technology successes and acknowledge your supporters. Share your successes with other departments and agencies. You'll be a hero.

Now go and put technology to work for you to help you work smarter and safer. If you have a technology success that you would like to share with me, please e-mail me at [email protected].

Charles Werner, a Firehouse contributing editor, is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and is fire chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. Werner serves on a number of local, state and federal interoperability working groups, and is technology chair for the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association and chair of the Commonwealth of Virginia First Responder Executive Committee. In addition, he serves on the SAFECOM Executive Committee and Advisory Group.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!