Innovations Changing the Modern Fire Service

FireRescue explore 5 technological innovations changing today's fire service

By Timothy E. Sendelbach
Published Friday, October 31, 2008 | From the November 2008 Issue of FireRescue

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” At times, this definition appears to fit the modern fire service. We continue to apply traditional tactics and technology to an age-old problem with the belief that the outcome will change.

Unfortunately, the environment in which we work no longer supports these traditional efforts. Today, firefighters throughout the country are faced with unforeseen hazards that produce what most would consider preventable injuries and sometimes death.

This month’s Technology Focus section has been designed to promote a mindset that looks beyond our traditional past, a mindset that foregoes boundaries and unproven myths of tactics and technology. As the hazards we face continue to change, so too must our approach to controlling and suppressing the risks they present.

It’s my hope that by sharing a few “nontraditional” ideas, firefighters and fire officers throughout the country will begin to explore, research and potentially adopt the growing list of options that exist in an effort to produce a safer, more effective working environment for our firefighters.

Historically, the American fire service has sought solutions from within our ranks (local problems solved by local people) and although this approach has served us well, the time has come for us to look beyond our boundaries—local and otherwise. Kriss Garcia provides an overview of a recent meeting of international fire service professionals who gathered in Sweden to share and test some commonly accepted and less understood fireground practices. This initial report sheds light on the many variables that exist within our profession and further supports the need for ongoing research and “out of the box” thinking.

Dominic Colletti dispels some of the myths that continue to stifle the use and application of compressed air foam on structure fires. This innovative tool—while in no way new to the fire service—is gaining in popularity, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes a standard spec on all apparatus.

Synthetic materials and energy efficient building design are rapidly changing fire behavior in new construction. Ed Hartin underscores the need to consider “3D” firefighting tactics—including gas cooling and ventilation—to achieve rapid fire knockdown and mitigate the danger of flashover.

One of the most notable fireground advancements in recent memory has been the thermal imaging camera (TIC). In years past, financial limitations prohibited many departments throughout the country from being able to purchase TICs. Today, nearly every fire department (paid or volunteer) has at least one TIC, if not several. As TIC use rises, standardization and application issues must be addressed. Robert Athanas writes about a proposed NFPA standard that will help standardize the development of future TICs and hopefully lead to more effective use and application of TICs on the fireground.

As the number of fires continues to diminish, fire departments throughout the country are seeking new ways to deliver safe, realistic and cost-effective training. Bob Vaccaro profiles the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s (IDHS) new mobile fire training unit, which certainly fits the bill. The portability and quick set-up time allows the IDHS staff to deliver live-fire training and other equally challenging scenario-based training programs at different sites throughout the state.

This Technology Focus is only a small glimpse of the ever-increasing list of technological advancements that continue to support the forward progression of the modern fire service. In years past, change moved at a snail’s pace. Today, change is a constant and only those who are willing to look beyond the boundaries of traditional tactics and past practices will keep pace with the rising number of developing leaders and technologies among us.

If you have news to share about a technological development in the fire service, please e-mail me at tesendelbach@msn.com.

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