By John Morse
There have been a lot of advancements in firefighting in the last 50 years. Firefighters used to use mustaches to filter the smoke from the air when they went in to fight a fire. If the mustache wasn’t enough they would fire up a cigar to block out the smell of the bad smoke.
We replaced all that with SCBA’s and now you can’t really even smoke in the fire station, certainly not in someone’s house, even if it is burning. Horse drawn wagons have been replaced by turbo-charged diesel engines that carry hose bigger than water mains. What will things look like in another 20 years?
GPS units are pretty common today, and we can even locate our family members if they are carrying a cell phone. One difficult thing for firefighters is finding their way through a smoke filled building, and then finding the way out. GPS units will help guide firefighters in and out of buildings. Incident commanders will also be able to look at a computer screen and see the status of each firefighter inside the building, even what floor of the building they are on.
False alarms can be a nuisance for firefighters and for administrators trying to run on a limited budget. Most commercial buildings are required to have alarm systems with sprinklers and detectors. When cameras are added to these detectors, firefighters will be able to view the area around the activated detector and possible determine what caused the activation. If no smoke or sign of trouble is seen on the camera, the response can be downgraded. On the other hand, if there is confirmed smoke or fire, the response can be upgraded all without anyone arriving on the scene.
Today our paramedics can send an EKG to the hospital to help diagnose a patient’s medical condition. In the future, firefighters will gear up with medical monitoring equipment when reporting for work. The incident commander, or by then the medical commander, will be able to monitor the vital signs of each firefighter. Blood pressure, heart rate, respirations and body temperature will be used when deciding who needs to go to rehab. Firefighters who show signs of overexertion will be called from the building based on medical facts.
Heads up displays will be regular equipment for firefighters, SCBA face pieces will look like cockpits of an airplane. Burning ears used to tell firefighters to leave the building, now there will be alarms and temperature gauges right in your face. Along with those gauges will be directional arrows to get you out of the building.
Chemical sensors will warn you of hazardous materials, and oxygen levels in the atmosphere will be displayed as well. All those handheld monitors will be gone and everything will be built in. Computer systems will know more than you really want to know. If something does go wrong, everything you experienced through the shift will be recorded.
It’s a long way from your grandfather’s fire service. Those guys with no SCBA are pretty amazed at all the technology we use today. The same will be true for you when you stop by the fire station after you’re out of the game for 20 years.
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