Technology & the Safety Officer

I’m sure we can all agree that technological improvements can be identified in virtually every area that affects our delivery of emergency services, and the advancements are only continuing to evolve. Lighting, thermal imaging, accountability systems, personal protective equipment (PPE), tools, apparatus, SCBA, dispatch protocols, etc.–each facet of emergency mitigation has improved over the past few years. For future generations of firefighters, will these technologies be as vital as turnout gear and SCBA are to us now? The thought is certainly promising and exciting!

The “Big 3” Technologies
With the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate on our side, the following “Big 3” technologies show tremendous promise for the future of the fire service and their role in firefighter and scene safety.

GLANSER: The Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System tracks up to 500 firefighters for up to 50 stories, transmitting the data back to a laptop. It is accurate within one to three meters, defining and transmitting their location and the floor they are on.

PHASER: Physiological Health Assessment Systems for Emergency Responders monitors vital signs, including body temperature, and transmits the data back to a monitored computer. With roughly 50% of firefighter line-of-duty deaths being medically related, wouldn’t we want to know if our personnel are at risk, as identified by their vital signs being monitored and transmitted back to the command? I would certainly think so.

WISPER: Wireless Intelligent Sensor Platform for Emergency Responders is an evolving technology that can transmit the vital information captured by GLANSER and PHASER, essentially becoming a self-powered, portable router that’s “dropped” along the route that firefighters take.

Experience & Resources
When it comes to identifying, predicting and preventing bad outcomes, I don’t know of any technology that can replace good old-fashioned experience. A key to this: a safety officer and an IC who are well-armed with situational awareness and timely, relevant information.

Safety officers and ICs will need to call upon their experiences to make decisions related to occupant survivability profiles, modern construction methods, building fire suppression features, available resources and weather conditions. Fortunately, the sharing of information has improved tremendously as well, giving safety officers and ICs even more resources to call upon in the decision-making process. If you’re not subscribed to several electronic sources of information that share fire service experiences (when things go right or wrong), then you are way behind the eight ball. Personally, I would prefer to ponder the “what if this happened to us?” question based on others’ experiences, rather than try to make all of the mistakes on my own first.

So with technology, experience and resources on our side, it’s easier to imagine a fire service that uses data to determine whether the structure to which you are responding is suitable for interior attack or is dangerously close to collapse. Another example: The first-arriving company executes an aggressive interior attack, one of the firefighters becomes lost, and their vital signs are accelerating rapidly. The arriving IC is laser-focused, has this information and deploys the necessary resources to locate the firefighter and remove them to awaiting medical attention. Clearly, if this technology averts one tragedy, it is worth every penny.

In Sum
Going forward, will these technologies improve firefighter and scene safety? I truly believe they will. This is not “pie in the sky” technology or pipe dreams; these technologies are real, and being aggressively developed and tested for the betterment of our profession. If the fire service embraces these technologies and they are used properly, they have the power to improve safety and protect our most valuable asset: our people.

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