Google Glass & the Fire Service

Like many members of the fire service, Max Wood, fire chief of the Gray (Ga.) Fire Department (GFD), embraces emerging technology. And when he saw on the news that Google was offering test models of Google Glass (for $1,500) to those with the best ideas on how they’d use the technology, he knew immediately what his pitch would be.

The all-volunteer GFD uses pre-fire or occupancy maps to identify characteristics of individual structures including location of sprinkler system, shut-offs, etc.-and Wood wants to leverage those maps to improve firefighter safety. “With Google Glass, you’ll be able to take the GPS coordinates for each person on scene, and overlap their locations on the map,” Wood says. “Color-coded dots would indicate engine company, ladder team, everyone, and from the incident commander (IC) standpoint, you can use a tablet to pull up where everyone is. People inside the scene would also be able to see the map.”

His idea was a winner, and Wood is a recipient of one of the first models of Google Glass, a wearable computer that displays information right before your eyes, in a smartphone-like format.

Real-World Applications

After using his Google Glass for a few weeks, Wood is impressed. “It has a very short learning curve,” he reports. He views Google Glass as technology that can enhance a fire department’s existing computer system, and potentially replace other equipment. It has multiple uses for ICs and departments, although the days of firefighters wearing Google Glass as they work their way through a fire are not here yet. “I wouldn’t go inside the fireground with it,” Wood states. The current device has no protection against heat, soot or other extreme conditions.

But Wood is enthusiastic about applications for ICs. “Google Glass has all the components we need” in one device, he explains. It can potentially replace an IC’s laptop, cell phone and other communication/information devices. “I think it’s practical,” he adds. “It takes technology out of your way and lets you do your job.”

He has also used Google Glass to record a fire investigation on scene. “I used it to interview the occupant and for different stages of fire investigation,” he says. “I got some great video, which I can view to see the stages of progression.”

As for functionality, Wood says Google Glass is easy to use and can integrate with a department’s computer system and other technology pieces. “We already have all the components,” he explains. “Glass is a companion piece to what we’ve got.”

Future Functionality

If and when Google Glass is affordable enough and robust enough to be worn by firefighters on scene, Wood envisions tremendous advantages for communication. “Firefighters can use it to take photos and videos and instantly send them back to the IC; the IC can use them to SMS or text message firefighters,” he says. “This would improve urgent communications-radios are hard to hear sometimes, but you can see an immediate order to evacuate.”

Wood sees wildland firefighting improving as well with Google Glass. “In wildland fires, those firefighters might be five miles away from their command post. They can feed back videos, pictures, and weather conditions,” he points out.

Woods, who has an IT background, points out that Google Glass is not just a direct, unfiltered link to the Internet; you can set up the devices as an internal part of your department’s computer system, preventing users from publicly posting the photos and videos they take with it.

Safety vs. Unlimited Information

Tim Sendelbach, FireRescue editor-in-chief, points to a recent video ( about the use of Google Glass for EMS-hospital
communications. “I see a direct application of the technology in a medical environment,” he says. “And if converted over to the fireground, this could translate to a hands-free checklist that the IC could work through.”

However, Sendelbach warns of information overload if using Google Glass for multiple communications and instant information access. “The mind can only process so much,” he points out. “It will take a great deal of training to adapt to this technology. Also, users could become too dependent on the technology. Any form of technology is susceptible to failure, and if users are reliant on that technology for their skill sets, they need something to fall back on if the technology fails.”

Sendelbach would like to see fire departments approach Google Glass carefully, with planning, testing and training phases in place. “The fire service is evolving and demanding more and more technology. We want to see progress, but there has to be a firm foundation before we move ahead,” he stresses.

In the meantime, Max Wood is looking ahead. “Google already has a version 2 available,” he says. “I’m staying with the one I have for now, but I want to learn more about the differences between the versions. We’d like to get an additional set.” missing image file

VFD Victory

Treasury clarifies that volunteer departments won’t have to
provide healthcare

In January, the Treasury Department issued a clarification that fire departments will not have to provide health insurance to volunteer firefighters.

The issue arose because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obama-care) requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer affordable and adequate healthcare coverage to employees who work on average 30 hours or more per week. That could have applied to volunteer fire departments, but the clarification erases that concern.

“This is an important victory for America’s fire and emergency services,” said Chief William
Metcalf, president and chairman of the board of the IAFC, which led an effort to educate Congress on the matter. “The Administration recognizes the special nature of America’s volunteer firefighters and the critical role they serve in protecting their communities.”

At press time, the IAFC was still awaiting final regulations from the Administration.

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