Apparatus, Technology

The Next Fire Apparatus Evolution Is Happening Now

Issue 1 and Volume 24.

Chris Mc Loone

We’ve gotten through the holidays, the ball has dropped in Times Square, and now it’s time to get moving on 2019.

Chris Mc Loone

All our fire apparatus is a year older as well as the myriad items we use every time the whistle blows or the bell rings.

Certain things are consumable, while other pieces of equipment, like our self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), must be tested and results recorded, including fit testing for each firefighter. The cycle begins anew at the beginning of every year. Atmospheric monitors must be tested, and personal protective equipment inventories must be reviewed to remove turnout gear that has reached its 10-year limit.

No doubt, there are countless departments across the nation preparing to replace their fire apparatus. It might be in bulk; it might be one at a time. But as we move into 2019, understand that we are now experiencing the next evolution in fire apparatus design, and it’s not something you can take a picture of. It’s about communication.

There is no shortage of ideas from firefighters for how to make our apparatus more efficient. Tool placement, crosslay and rear hosebed heights, ladder locations—these are all things that firefighters can tweak to ensure fireground efficiency. They keep things within easy reach so the crew can deploy quickly to get the job done. But if the trucks can’t get off the front apron, then all these practical features won’t do the crew a bit of good.

It’s about technology but beyond touch screen pump panels—which I’d love to try, by the way. I’ve seen them on rigs but haven’t had a chance to operate them. However, the technology I’m talking about is beyond that. We are beyond wirelessly talking to computers back at the station as we back in but not quite at a point where we are regularly communicating real-time information as the trucks operate at the fireground. We can do it, but we are not doing it across the board yet.

During 2018, we started to hear and read a lot about smart cities. At the highest level, the concept can be difficult to completely understand. But, it’s a little easier when considering what we already can do. We can monitor firefighter physiology in some cases, firefighter air consumption, firefighter location, etc. on the fireground. We can keep track of what firefighters are on scene. Vehicle systems allow us to monitor major components on a fire truck. Now consider tying all of these separate systems together and sending information back and forth to your municipality. With some truck systems, critical components are constantly monitored not only for preventive maintenance but also for predictive maintenance. Consider what that means for firefighters if everything is tied together. Firefighter cancer is getting a lot of deserved attention. Exposure tracking is an area that can assist in documenting when and how often firefighters have been exposed to the products of combustion. Accountability systems are doing just that, if you think about it. Predictive maintenance? Think about the variety of wearable technologies monitoring things like heart rate. Think about the health and safety officer being alerted to abnormally high heart rates for a firefighter at structure fires that could be an indicator of a more serious problem. Tying all these systems together to communicate with a municipality in real time will keep your rigs on the street and your firefighters on the rigs.

The technology is available now. Although still in its infancy for the most part, we know because we’ve witnessed it in other areas that once these things start to take off they move incredibly quickly. Don’t fear it, and don’t discount it. Although there are a few who still hold onto their flip phones, there are even fewer who do not have a smartphone today.

I’m pretty sure that there is quite a bit coming in terms of technology during 2019. Certain technologies will mature, and others will go the way of the Betamax. It’s important not to jump on every one as they arrive, but it’s equally important to analyze them. Look at how they will impact your fire department operations, but also look at how they fit into the overall operations of your municipality. A “smart municipality” is a big puzzle with a variety of pieces that all fit together to become one.