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Fire Service Technology Overload?

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Everywhere you look today, there is new technology popping up.  That really nice state of the art GPS unit you got for your car a couple years back is probably wrapped up inside its power cord and stuffed in the glove box of your car.  When we all bought those GPS units, we were amazed that it always knew where we were and that if we made a wrong turn, it would put us back on track.  That has already been replaced with free apps for our phone that tell us how to get places, show us where the police are, the speed of the traffic, potholes and animals in the road, and even other drivers that are using the same technology.  We all input data into that system that is shared by everyone else.  I needed an old fashioned map the other day, but in its place in the glove box was my old GPS.  Technology is nice, but sometimes we just need that old folded up map.

Sometimes it seems like technology in the fire service has gone too far.  You really can’t put out a fire with a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  We still need the ladders and hose to get our job done.  We have added technology to almost every aspect of firefighting, and some of these additions have caused us to lose touch with the hands-on things that make up our job.

A thermal imaging camera is a great addition to a fire department.  Many departments require someone on the crew to bring it inside on every call.  When we search a room with that thermal imager, we get to the doorway and sweep the camera around the room to look for a victim.  But what happened to a quick primary search sweeping your hand or a tool through the room?  I have seen some training scenarios where the camera was relied upon to search a room but no one looked right inside the doorway where the victim was located.

We all like the GPS directions in our car so why can’t we have that in our fire apparatus?  I have had a lot of firefighters ask for our system to provide routing in our town.  It kind of makes sense to just hop in the rig and listen to some computer tell us where to go, right?  When we rely on technology too much, we forget how to get along without it.  When we hear an address for a call, we need to map it out in our head on the way to the rig, maybe even have a little verbal communication between crew members, something like “that’s the two-story house under construction just behind the hardware store”.  Our size up begins when we hear the address, not when we arrive.  Our GPS might give us the most common route, but if we think about it, we can take the next street over and avoid that rush hour traffic on the main route.

The addition of “Go To Meeting” and related software has allowed us to train multiple stations together without leaving the comfort of our own training room.  What a great way to save travel time, stay in our district, and honestly, you can get a lot of credit for training hours without even interacting.  Make sure you limit this type of training to those times the instructor cannot physically be present.  It takes a special instructor to engage an audience through a projector.

Use technology carefully, but don’t turn your department into one of those brain-dead teenagers with their head buried in their phone playing some little game chasing things in a world where everything is made up of blocks. We need firefighters who know how to drag a hose, put up a ladder, and even break some windows once in a while.

By John Morse

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