By Mark Krizik
Principal Staff Engineer
Motorola Solutions, Inc.
For many people, work is a multifaceted environment. But for me, wearing two hats has proven to be synergistic to both Motorola Solutions and the fire service.
As a firefighter and paramedic for the Village of Posen, Illinois, I’m able to bring experience and insight to the solutions I help design as principal staff engineer for Motorola’s ASTRO® 25 Networks-a perspective that is difficult to obtain simply from market research, surveys, and trade show discussions.
It’s a part of a philosophy and tradition at Motorola that resulted in the introduction of the first radio specifically designed for firefighters in 2010 and continues today with the basic understanding that our engineers need to be aware of how the communication device fits into the overall priority scheme of a firefighter or emergency medical technician (EMT) responding to 911 calls.
The two-way radio, the mobile computer, the dispatching console-all of these are transparent to the first responder when addressing life-and-death situations. The products have to be intuitive and second nature for them to be helpful to the firefighter, EMT, or dispatcher.
As a firefighter since 1984, I’m in a unique position to provide first-hand accounts of why things are the way they are and cite recent, relevant examples of how or why a product can or cannot be used in a way proposed by our business, marketing, or engineering teams.
This experience-for me and several others at Motorola who serve in similar dual roles-has been a gratifying two-way street that allows us to give back to our communities and really understand the challenge of communicating in a burning structure, finding someone when you can’t see your hands in front of your face, and keeping your mind on the split-second decisions that need to be made in a crisis situation.
Conversely, the first-hand knowledge we’ve gained in the field has been invaluable in developing standards-based, mission-critical networks like ASTRO 25, the core of Motorola’s integrated voice and data network for emergency response and coordinated communications during and after an incident. It’s been designed to provide uncompromising voice and data services to support first responders as they focus on their mission of protecting lives and property. Top of mind for us in every aspect is to ensure successful communication in every situation.
New Meaning to the Word Experiential
But, understanding the real-world needs of firefighters at Motorola isn’t just limited to those who also serve as first responders. Nothing captures the importance we place on transferring this knowledge as much as the hands-on crisis training that Motorola conducts every year at the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) in Champaign, Illinois.
Each October for the past 12 years, our engineers, business development, salespeople, program management, marketing staff, and this year our chief technology officer travel to experience, in a controlled environment, what firefighters face on the job every day. In doing so, they learn how our solutions function outside the lab and the nuances of what makes a good product practical or not-like a radio that functions with high background noise while wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) mask or a lapel microphone that can be secured with heavy gloves on.
I’ve been privileged to lead this program, often along with my brother Bryant, former chief of the Orland (IL) Fire Protection District. Joining us are firefighters and fire chiefs from communities around the state who donate their time and expertise. After a classroom session on safety and the basics of firefighting techniques, the 40 participants are divided into 13 teams and led to three burn buildings.
Once the controlled fires have been set, each team, accompanied by experienced firefighter instructors, replicates the tasks performed by ladder trucks, engine companies, and incident commanders-including finding victims inside a six-story structure. The responses I get each year from Motorola employees who have participated in the program are enthusiastic and superlative.
I get letters from employees who tell me the training really gives them a much better understanding of the environment and challenges firefighters have to face daily. You cannot apply a value to the benefit this has on our ability to envision and develop the future of fire communications. Perhaps the impact can best be summed up by one participant who wrote: “Wow. That certainly gave new meaning to the word ‘experiential.’ “
Spearheading Change within the Industry
What we, as a team, take home from an experience such as the live fire training program is a true understanding of the urgency of mission-critical communications. And, that knowledge is applied directly as I work with my colleagues to write the technology system requirements for the fire service market. At the same time, however, we need to envision where the fire service will be five, 10, or 15 years from now and project how mission-critical voice, ubiquitous broadband data, high-definition video, analytics, biometrics, and so on will be used.
My 29 years in the fire service have enabled me to be a manufacturer representative on two National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard committees. With my fire service and EMS background, I am able to represent Motorola in these committee meetings and at the same time talk the talk and walk the walk. It’s important to be impartial and mindful during the discussions-in both directions.
As a firefighter, I have a vested interest in the best possible standard for the fire market-ensuring safe, reliable products meet the highest standard possible. As an engineer working for a telecommunications company, I have insight into what it takes to bring a product to the market, especially a product that meets numerous safety and performance specifications for the fire market.
The open dialogue Motorola has with the fire service will be a key factor as Motorola is actively involved with the planning and implementation of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the federal government-approved allocation to build a much-needed nationwide interoperable broadband network that will cover 95 percent of the United States to help police, firefighters, and emergency medical service (EMS) professionals stay safe and do their jobs.
FirstNet will hold the spectrum license for the network as part of the National Telecom and Information Association (NTIA) and is charged with taking all actions necessary to build, deploy, and operate the long-term evolution (LTE) broadband network in consultation with federal, state, tribal, and local public safety entities and other key stakeholders.
Motorola engineers are working with these authorities to better understand the design needs of the network. They are also developing concepts on how public safety can better use a revolutionary resource such as this and how firefighters specifically can adapt their operations to maximize its impact.
An Engineer in the Fire Department
As a Motorola systems engineer, my education and experience have enabled me to make a positive contribution to my fire department and to the fire service at large.
Our technology presentations at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) have helped educate fire service representatives on some of the challenges and limitations of applying technology to the fire service. These presentations have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other, including a “Radio 101” workshop, designed to teach the basic principles of RF communications, and the “Technology: Implementation vs. Development” workshop, which educates administrators on the pitfalls of implementing technology without the right plan for success.
Recently, my dual experience as an engineer and firefighter allowed me to take the additional responsibility of EMS coordinator at the fire department. In this role, I’ve started to implement changes to our training and equipment, each of which must go hand in hand, and which usually occur with deliberate, methodical approaches, much like systems engineering.
A background in requirements writing has also given me an advantage when it comes to writing grant applications, which rely on clearly conveying a need for financial assistance that the department cannot otherwise fund. Spending hours and hours at work paying specific attention to detail in writing informative sentences has enabled me to write clear, concise grant narratives. Our department has benefited from a number of Fire Act grants as well as EMS grants from the state.
I know there are many companies that serve the fire and EMS markets that employ active members of the fire and emergency medical services. These companies recognize the benefit of having those people on their staffs and the value it brings to their bottom lines. So the next time you’re at a trade show and walk into a booth and strike up a conversation with the company rep, you might be talking to more than just a marketing person or a sales engineer. You might be talking to a fellow firefighter or paramedic-one who gets it, just like you.
MARK KRIZIK is a principal staff engineer with Motorola Solutions, Inc. He initially worked on the implementation of two-way radio systems for Motorola’s International Division and later moved into product development, where he is responsible for technical system requirements for Motorola’s ASTRO public safety radio systems. He is also 29-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant and the EMS coordinator with the Posen (IL) Fire Department.