Now Is Our Time

Issue 12 and Volume 21.

Chris Mc Loone   Chris Mc Loone

I have had the opportunity to attend the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA)/Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA) annual meeting for five years now.

One of the reasons I enjoy going to this event is that I always walk away with an idea of what outside influences impact the companies that supply us with our fire apparatus and equipment. It’s nice to step out of the end user world to learn more about the supplier world.

This year and last year, the event featured a panel of four fire chiefs from different regions who got a chance to address a joint session comprising FAMA and FEMSA members. As the panel concluded, each chief got a chance to say a few words to their captive audience. All four panelists were adamant that the suppliers in the room work to make their disparate systems able to “talk” to each other. Each expressed a certain degree of frustration that there isn’t a way to easily pull and share data from these systems. As one remarked, these pieces of software have to be quick and simple or firefighters will set them aside.

One unspoken message of all this is that the chiefs on stage were all willing and open to use technology-a fact not often recognized amid commentary that often suggests firefighters do not accept change. One reason for this willingness is their ages. We are going to be going through a change soon in the fire service where a generation who did not grow up with computers is moving on and Generation Xers are beginning to take the helm of departments. Concurrently, a quick look around the room suggested that similar transitions are occurring across the industry on the supplier side.

Often we think of the “young” firefighters as those entering the fire service today, the ones who are so comfortable using current technologies like smart phones and tablets to do, well, just about everything. But, there is a whole core of firefighters currently moving into upper leadership positions in their fire departments who grew up as personal computers first began appearing in homes all around the country. I’m one of them. We entered the workforce before the Internet. I can still remember my first job where we had e-mail, but it was only internal. It was a big deal when we were able to get e-mail from “the outside.”

Folks in my generation, although not as adroit at using some of today’s technologies-and quite frankly hitting a technology wall, in many instances-are more open to using new technologies. We’re comfortable with vehicle data recorders, NFIRS software packages. This comfort level manifested itself in the chiefs who were on stage.

It was significant, and for the first time I realized that it is our (Generation X) time right now. We are ascending to positions of authority in our departments, and the FAMA/FEMSA members gathered are going to begin to see a change in the level at which fire departments are accepting technological advances.

Now, there’s no doubt that the kids coming in are still going to consider us dinosaurs. There’s no way around that. My fire company uses one of the many alerting apps, and I refuse to turn on my location settings because I don’t want the whole firehouse knowing where I am when I have the app open. I’m more comfortable using a mobile data terminal in the truck and am hesitant to use a tablet instead. My 30-something lieutenants and captain can’t figure that one out.

It’s a little odd to be a part of this changing of the guard. Of course, it’s also a bit odd to have kids joining the fire company who were coming into this world as I was getting married. We all attended a training session recently, and the instructor was one who taught me vehicle rescue 21 years ago. There were kids in the room who hadn’t even been born yet.

As folks from Generation X continue to ascend into leadership positions at fire departments, suppliers will find that there is a greater understanding of the technology available and that these individuals want to learn how they work and how they can increase efficiency on the fireground and administrative efficiency back at the firehouse. It’s fun to be a part of it and to watch it unfold, even though it means I’m getting up there in years.