Is AI Rewriting the Future of Fire and EMS Services?

March 26, 2024
Gary Ludwig looks at how the small chips powering artificial intelligence (AI) will guide many aspects of fire departments in the future.

Editor's note: This article was not written using artificial intelligence (AI), it was written by a veteran of fire and EMS services that AI technology has most likely pulled some of their related data from.

If you have NVIDIA in your stock portfolio, 401K, or 457 accounts, good for you. NVIDIA is a large corporation that makes computer chips for all kinds of applications including computer gaming, data centers, crypto mining, desktop PCs, and virtually any computer application you can think of.  Their projected revenue in 2024 is $60.92 billion and $111.40 billion in 2025. Their stock is up 256 percent in the last year and 2,024 percent in the last five years. I used to have NVIDIA in my stock portfolio but sold it several years ago. You don’t want to ask me for financial advice.

So why is NVIDIA stock on a rocket ship? Two words...artificial intelligence or AI!

There is a tremendous demand for computer chips due to AI. We are in the first inning of AI and all the applications it will have. Simply put, AI incorporates large data sets with machine learning to solve problems within seconds that would take a human, hours, days, or even years to solve. Using AI algorithms, we ask a computer a question or series of questions and through machine learning, within seconds, it simulates human intelligence and problem-solving using massive data available from the internet, images, videos, podcasts, company and governmental databases, published papers, books, and more. When you combine other technologies such as sensors, geolocation, and robotics, it can perform human functions including autonomous driving, cooking, designing the next vaccine in record time, and much more. Don’t be surprised if you see robotic arms cooking your food at a restaurant in the future.

But what can we expect in the future using AI for the fire service? The possibilities are unlimited. As an example, wildfires are a tremendous problem in the United States, and it seems to be getting worse. There were over 80,000 wildfires reported last year. Some were as small as 25 acres or massive ones like the one in Hawaii.  

Just like computers use databases to predict hurricanes, tornadoes, and the weather, AI will be able to use tons of information including terrain, vegetation, humidity, weather conditions, and cameras, (there are over 1,000 mountaintop cameras in California already being used for wildfires) and historical data, to predict where a wildfire is likely to break out or has broken out.  The goal is to have AI sift through tons of data within seconds to problem-solve for humans so that a wildfire is contained early and does not grow to be unmanageable. This type of system is already in place.

Training as a firefighter in the future may include wearing a headset, integrated with other firefighters wearing headsets to train in different scenarios. This could include fire, EMS, and hazmat incidents. This virtual, mixed, and augmented reality will immerse firefighters in real-time scenarios that will include touch and even smells.

One day, autonomous driving will be a reality. Although there are some glitches that autonomous driving companies are working their way through, autonomous driving cars and trucks are on the streets now. No doubt in the future, as AI and machines learn how to avoid accidents and unique scenarios, autonomous driving will become commonplace. The question is – will we see autonomous driving fire trucks and ambulances in the future also?

AI will be used for operations and fire prevention programs to predict where, what time, and day the greatest risk of a structure fire will occur. These fire risk assessments will consider databases with past fire responses, vacant buildings, occupancy permits, hazardous material storage, records reflecting a building's age, design, construction, materials, inspections, and proximity to water and fire stations.

Administrative functions such as scheduling will be made much easier. Although there are currently programs in place that do automatic scheduling of firefighters, including calls or texting for station assignments or overtime, the next level will be predictive modeling which will use databases of historical information to project vacancies in the schedule well ahead of the day before. The same administrative AI functionality can also be used for budgeting purposes.

Expect to see AI applied to firefighter safety with new SCBAs that have integrated sensors for body temperature, breathing rate, pulse, location in three dimensions, and air monitoring. The information will be transmitted to the incident commander or an accountability officer in the command car who can pull a crew from a building when low air alarms go off or if the pulse and blood pressure of a firefighter is in a danger zone. AI will be used to design and develop new facemasks that have integrated thermal imaging cameras, “breadcrumbs” that will trace where you walked or crawled, and through a visual display in the mask, you’ll be able to retrace your steps back out of the building, plus integrated optics that will allow you to see through smoke or low light environments.

National Incident Fire Reporting System (NIFRS) is in the planning process of changing to National Emergency Response Information System (NERIS). The new system will use AI and the cloud to provide fire departments with data for decision-making and preparedness for operations, and community risk reduction. No longer will fire departments have to sift through tons of data to make decisions on where to concentrate their community risk reduction efforts, or the next smoke alarm blitz. Through machine learning, AI will provide the solution.

The application with EMS is even more interesting. Considering there are databases of millions of EMS calls and hospital visits and treatments, imagine in the future, you are unsure what is going on with a patient who is having abdominal pain. You enter all the information into your tablet, including vital signs, physical findings, medications the patient takes, medical history, sensors that pick up additional information, and through AI, the computer tells you that your patient has a 97.8 percent chance of an abdominal aneurysm, an 87.3 percent of a ruptured colon, or a 59.6 percent chance of a bowel obstruction. Based on the information you receive back through AI, it will set you on the course on which protocol to follow before and during transport of the patient to the hospital.

EMS training using virtual reality augmentation and headsets on patient care is also something that will become a reality through AI in the future. 

The application for using AI for fire and EMS is here. Watch as AI continues to grow in our everyday lives and how it will crossover to the fire and EMS profession.   


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