Conferences Highlight-Technological Advances

Fire Rescue International in Dallas in August concluded the conference season for the major national shows. Having been in attendance at most, I wonder how the vendors do it. Those that display at all the shows should be commended for their support of the fire service. I realize that they participate because there must be some advantage to their business, but even still, the conference circuit must be grueling. 

In many ways the conferences are the same – educational opportunities and lots of vendor space. Even still, they each have their own personality and do things differently based upon the expectations of the attendees. In many ways one could pick the conference they think best fits their role and get the information they need. On the other hand, the exhibit floors are so huge, one almost needs to visit all the shows to see what is being displayed.

There are differences among vendors, driven by the product and size of the company. Other things that distinguish the vendors are the personalities of those in the booths. Some are outgoing and really work hard to engage those that walk by. 

Others seem to be a bit “burned out” with the number of times they have to sit through these shows. From a visitor perspective, I can tell you that it is noticed. Attendees are more likely to stop by and stay longer at the booths that are more open and welcoming.

The Right Approach

At almost every show I encounter a product that gets my attention. Since it has been a while since the last show, I am not sure that I could identify which products were introduced at what shows. But a sales person with the right approach – a smile, knowledge, not pushy, and a welcoming spirit – can get a foot in the door.

Most of the new products that get your attention are those with the latest technology. They take more mainstream ideas and adapt them to the fire and emergency service. They provide a good opportunity to see what is being developed and what has potential. There must be a balance between the enthusiasm for a product that promises to fix all your problems and the reality that there needs to be some “proof” that the product will help to improve your service.

Computers and their various uses seem to be finding more space at the fire shows. This includes the incident reporting software options, mapping and GIS, record keeping, training and simulations and miscellaneous items that promise faster, easier and more accurate ways to do the job. Within this area I am intrigued by the training and simulations.

Driver Training Simulations

Driver training simulations combine the fun of playing a game with the chance to hone an individual’s skills. Getting to and from the scene of the emergency remains a significant cause of line of duty deaths, injuries to firefighters and injuries to civilians. The opportunity to practice frequently without taking the “big rig” out can only improve performance. Of course as is the case with most simulations, they are not the answer to everything. But the awareness and variety of the scenarios help to improve the driving capabilities of most everyone.

Training simulations are another area of good use of computer technology. Simulations have become very helpful in preparing and recertifying other occupations, such as airline pilots. In the fire service, as many departments have seen a reduction in the number of significant incidents, the level of experience may not be totally adequate to provide the best service. Short of generating your own real incidents, simulations offer a chance to use your brain to figure out problems that are part of the job. Repetition allows for good decisions to be made should you be faced with a difficult situation.

As you look at the various simulations, you need to evaluate which ones best meet the needs of your department. You need to look at the lessons taught, the techniques used and the applicability to the “real world” where you operate. These need to be balanced with your ability to pay. There are products that are extremely advanced and exhibit quality on par with some of the best video games on the market. Of course, these come with a higher price tag.

You need to know what you can spend and how much use you will get. In some ways it is like the toys that children get on Christmas. They get a lot of play for a few days and then end up in the attic or basement.

These products give you a chance to expand your horizons and guess which ones will be most effective in the immediate and long-range future.  Some will be sustainable and become fixtures in the fire service. Think of thermal imaging cameras. Not too many years ago they were displayed and considered a luxury in many departments. People thought they had a value, but were unsure of the cost compared to the payback. Today they are a necessary part of the attack crews in many departments.

Kicking The Tires

The fact is the vendor shows played an important role in introducing thermal imagers to the fire service. As more departments accepted the concept and placed orders, the cost came down. Improvements in technology and manufacturing also played a role in making the item more affordable.

At a trade show one cannot ignore the folks selling the big, mostly red, fire trucks. Even if you are not in the market, you are drawn to kick the tires. The vehicles today continue to make improvements and help make the job easier in many ways. 

The basic components remain similar, but comparing vehicles from just five years ago to today would be very enlightening. Overall they are more durable, more reliable, and easier to operate. They are also safer due to many features that have been added. It is through these shows that most of this information gets to the firefighters.

Going to a show can be somewhat overwhelming. Going to three or four can get mind numbing. Regardless, there is a great opportunity to see what is available. It would be unrealistic to think that everything in the building is for everyone. Make the evaluations to make sure you get what you need, and avoid acquiring something that will end up in your basement.

Editor’s Note: Richard Marinucci is chief of the Northville Township (Mich.) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (Mich.) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999 he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He holds three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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