Fire Technology: Fire Service Technology Challenges and Vulnerabilities

Dec. 13, 2021
Charles Werner reminds that an embrace of the latest technology by fire service organizations must recognize its vulnerabilities, including in regard to cyber attacks.

The opportunities and implementation of technology never have been so impactful in the fire service as they are today, including training, communications, operations and administration.

In the area of training, training apps, digital incident simulations, driver and hazmat training simulators, online training programs and record-keeping are most notable.

Communications advances include automated computer-aided dispatch (CAD), fire station control systems, response apps, E9-1-1, text to 9-1-1, Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911), and automatic vehicle location.

Operations benefit from advanced land mobile radio (LMR) systems, LMR-to-broadband integration (Radio over IP, or RoIP), GEO x, y and z (elevation) location of responders, drone technologies, incident command systems on tablets, automated personnel accountability reports, biometric monitoring, EMS defibrillators and GIS.

Administration technology advances include records management systems that are integrated with CAD systems and automated staffing/budgeting programs.

Electric apparatus

Although new technologies provide many benefits, their use brings challenges, too. These include to ongoing training, the technology divide between older and younger generations, technology life cycles, routine usage to ensure proficiency, software/­firmware updates, battery management and maintaining standardization.

Among the newest technological opportunities is electric fire apparatus. However, we must evaluate functionality, reliability and cost, including infrastructure additions to fire station design, to add charging stations and other supporting equipment. Additionally, a thorough analysis must be undertaken regarding the effect of a shutdown of the electric grid for prolonged times following natural disasters, which might not support charging capabilities. That could lessen apparatus operational time or render the vehicles inoperable.

Perhaps an interim plan should be to move slowly with the addition of these new apparatus, to fully test the operational aspects, while maintaining the older but reliable diesel-fueled apparatus. In general, moving away from tools and equipment that are powered by fossil fuels to electric counterparts requires a full review and comprehensive plan for transitioning.

Similarly, as fire stations begin to install solar panels, this technology might be best viewed as supplemental power rather than the primary source.


Vulnerabilities of new technology often are overlooked, but they can have significant, even catastrophic, effect on operations. One of the most overlooked and dangerous vulnerabilities today is with cyber­security. Cybersecurity involves anything that operates with software and is in some way interconnected to the internet. This interconnectivity between technologies is more prevalent than many realize.

In these present times, there are regular cyberattacks through hacking, e-mail phishing, computer viruses and ransomware. Cyber vulnerabilities can affect radio communications, telephone communications, CAD, broadband networks, computer systems, fire station systems and all interconnected devices, by either taking control of or completely bringing down lifesaving systems.

To overcome this mindset requires a culture change through regular training for all personnel and updated technology to protect against cyberattacks.

One of the newer vulnerabilities includes access to new products and/or replacement parts because of the COVID-created supply chain issues, which involve workforce/truck driver shortages, backups at ports and production backlogs, and this won’t be remedied quickly. These issues are affecting or might affect every aspect of technology in the way of parts, devices, batteries, computer chips, radios, fire apparatus, etc. The costs for all equipment, supplies and apparatus also are likely to increase significantly because of inflation that’s caused by fuel costs and supply chain issues. On this front, it’s necessary for fire service leaders to stay abreast of supply chain issues, to assess their respective risks, and to plan to prepare accordingly in the areas of reserve supply and budgetary effects.

Another area of preparation requires alternative backup methods to perform key functions when technology systems fail as the result of an outside attack, human error or mechanical failure. It also is important to fully document interdependencies and how individual failures affect other systems. 

Voice Your Opinion!

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