Evolution vs. intelligent design
Volume 24, No. 4
Short of "Star Trek" type teleporters, firefighters cannot get to fires faster. Steam took over from horses, gasoline took over from steam and, eventually, diesel replaced gasoline. Some folks have even tinkered with replacing the diesel engines with jet engines. Okay, they may be noisy, but at least it is an ongoing attempt at innovation. Like Steve Jobs says, innovation distinguishes between the leaders and the followers.
But other areas of fire fighting have been ripe for innovation as well.
Today we have aerial ladders 100 feet tall that will flow up to 7,000 gpm of water and foam. We have awesome foam systems and self-educting foam nozzles. We have Halon replacements such as water mist and CO2 systems. Of course, it would be nice if we still had Halon. It still stands as one of the great innovations in modern fire fighting though the environmentalists have shot it down.
Electronics are perhaps the last great frontier in fire fighting innovation. Once upon a time an emergency vehicle equipped with a radio capable of communicating on a single frequency was like a gift from God. My career in the fire service extends back far enough that I can remember the first portable radios issued by emergency responders. The battery lasted maybe four to six hours. When dead, that costly battery could not be recharged, only discarded.
Now we have radios that monitor every frequency imaginable - high band, low band, wide band, UHF, 700 trunking, 800 trunking, 900 trunking, non-trunking, simplex and duplex. All these options often make interoperability a nightmare. We have reached a point where interoperability all but requires a fulltime IT person at the fire.
Adequate emergency response radio communications are essential for emergency responders to function promptly, effectively, and cost efficiently.
If emergency response agencies cannot communicate directly with one another by radio to coordinate response, lives and property are at higher risk. But if interoperability is not complicated enough, add to this madness the issue of proprietary information. These new communications options are being promoted by radio manufacturers who want to bar competitors from using their select technology. In simple terms, if I buy Brand X radio it will not talk to Brand Y or Z, and vice versa.
Big cities are spending millions to buy into these new emergency response radio systems. That these cities do not really have extra money to spend is irrelevant. Bad economy or not, it is happening. Smaller towns are just going to have to fend for themselves in this brave new world.
Some people would argue, "What's wrong with the radio I have?" Truly, it is wonderful that a fire chief at an emergency in Houston can converse with a fire chief in Los Angeles at the same time. However, the reality is such a technological marvel is rarely, if ever, necessary. Most fire chiefs dream about standing in front of a burning structure with a radio reliable enough to reach the firefighter in the middle of the blaze. That is the big problem and too often it remains unsolved.
Locating firefighters in trouble is another rich avenue for innovation. Unfortunately, GPS does not work indoors. We have effective systems to track how many people go into and come out of the fire. But we need to know exactly where they are once they are inside and out of sight, particularly if they become separated.
Government research to develop new technologies for fire fighting is not enough. In my 40-plus years in fire fighting, most of the successful research and development has come from private enterprise. Some of these are featured in stories and ads in this issue.
With this issue you can make the most of the chief com-munications innovation of our time - the Internet. We encourage readers who want to communicate with us to sign in to be notified when the next issue is posted for free online to access. Starting with this issue, e-mail addresses listed in our articles online are directly linked to the sources of the material being referenced. One click takes you to the source to send your questions and comments.
Beam me up, Scotty.