It’s no secret that the fire service is often resistant to change. We work in such a rapidly changing environment on the emergency scene that stability with our colleagues and tools helps us maintain some level of sanity. However, that stability can only last so long; things are bound to change.
While I don’t claim to be any sort of psychic or seer, I do get a chance to talk with a lot of people from both inside and outside the fire service—people from around the country (and world!)—and I do like to contemplate what the future might look like, particularly in incident management. One thing we know: Technology will play a big part in the fire service of the future. With that in mind, following are a few trends that will play a major role in managing and preplanning incidents into the future.
Think about how far we’ve come with standardization in the past 20 to 30 years. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has printed standards on sprinklers, life safety and many other topics for decades, but in today’s world, there has been a significant uptick in the number of standards published, with the more than 300 NFPA standards and recommended practices that have impacted everything from large-diameter hose couplings to SCBA interoperability.
From an incident command perspective, we need to better standardize the way we manage incidents and the way we plan for emergencies. Incident management teams and NIMS are helping incident commanders (ICs) better standardize the way we do this, and we are starting to recognize that preplans must be based on NFPA 1620: Standard for Pre-Incident Planning, so that anyone on the incident command team can quickly review and understand the plan. Responders need to work toward ensuring that preplans follow this standard, much like apparatus, turnout gear and SCBA follow their respective standards.
Building Information Models
One of the major stumbling blocks to good incident preparation is getting quality building drawings and similar information that’s easily accessible (and usable) for firefighters. First of all, there are “engineering-quality” drawings and there are “firefighter-quality” drawings. “Engineering-quality” drawings are needed to build a building, but we don’t need that same level of quality to respond to incidents in the building, and we certainly don’t need to know every tiny detail of the building’s construction to properly manage an incident in it.
The good news is that there’s something called the Building Information Model (BIM) that’s better standardizing building plans, and can make it easier for emergency responders to capture and use information. Detailed aerial and birds-eye maps from vendors such as Bing, Google Earth, Mapquest, the National Grid and similar websites will greatly help responders manage incidents, and much of the information is available at no cost. The key to using this information: a tool that gathers the right information to go into a preplan, and then another to turn that information into something readable by both firefighters and ICs/planning officers for simpler and more complex incidents.
Building Operating Systems
Technology will continue to tie building operating systems into preplanning to show, in real-time, at the command post, what is going on inside the building. These building operating systems may include building cameras and alarm systems that can display real-time information and interact with the IC’s command post. Eventually, sensors will be able to show structural movement to provide responders with an early warning of collapse. In my area, we recently tied all of the cameras in a school into the pre-incident plan, and I’m working with a private car museum owner who is excited to be able to tie his webcams into our preplan for his facility.
Fire modeling will continue to grow in use to determine how long a building can remain in adequate condition structurally to support interior firefighting (of course, this will depend on a number of fire conditions). The modeling will be tied to preplans and, based upon sensors and other data in the building, will transmit information to the command post about how much longer interior firefighting can occur with minimal risk of structural collapse.
Information Ease at the Command Post
The ease at which we can read, process and share preplans (via Web-based applications) at the command post and other command locations/EOCs will continue to improve. Larger screens, availability of a wide range of interactive mobile devices, and the ability to zoom in/zoom out and “drill down” on specific items/areas will become more prevalent. There are some challenges, including ensuring that information is up-to-date and that there isn’t an information overload at the command post. At the same time, tracking where firefighters are in the building (tied to the preplan), and their conditions (physically and related to their PPE, such as how much air they have left, etc.) will continue to become more commonplace.
Information Ease in the Field
Technology will continue to improve the ability to read preplans in the field. Like combat soldiers, firefighters don’t just need to glance at the preplan en route to the call; they need to be able to see where they are in the building via heads-up displays in masks, as well as conditions around them, such as temperature and fire growth. Heads-up displays need to be easy to use (i.e., the firefighter simply reaches up to the facemask with a gloved hand to zoom in or out on the heads-up display).
As we heard on “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “We have the technology.” Now we have to use it. The national public safety broadband network commitment will go a long way to facilitating our ability to make these changes work, and work well. With a rise in the number of vacant buildings, building construction veering toward more lightweight structures, and various manmade products that add to the heat of combustion, we must demand improvements in our preplanning processes.
Technology Meets FDNY Accountability (excerpt)
A breakdown of the technology used in the FDNY’s Fireground Accountability Program
By Jane Jerrard
From the November 2011 Issue of FireRescue
After losing its magnetic command board in the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, the FDNY was challenged with finding a new and improved way to track firefighters on scene and keep them safe.
The idea for the latest technology came about after the Deutsche Bank Building Fire of 2007 in which two firefighters perished despite sending mayday calls. With that scenario in mind, Lt. Thomas Woska and seven or eight other members of the R&D Unit sketched out the idea for what became the Electronic Fireground Accountability System, or EFAS. Pronounced EE-fas, the system allows for real-time recognition of who’s sending a mayday call and where they can be found. It also allows the incident commander to perform a rapid roll call on scene.
EFAS matches data from firefighters’ radios with the FDNY’s Electronic Riding List (ERL), a list entered each day by company officers, identifying who has which radio and their assigned position. Because each radio has a unique internal code, the EFAS system links that code to the ERL. When a mayday call comes in, the MDT screen shows the caller’s name, engine number and assigned position at the incident. The incident commander can then contact other members of the company who know where that person is supposed to be based on their assignment.
EFAS is just one part of the FDNY’s larger Fireground Accountability Program. Another accountability component: electronic command boards (ECBs), which will be used on scene as portable, handheld devices.
Using GIS to Visualize Risks and Hazards (excerpt)
GIS can improve your community’s preparedness and ability to respond
By Don Oliver
From the November 2011 Issue of FireRescue
Geographic information systems allow you to identify and quantify community hazards and values at risk. Fire/rescue hazards include physical features that can ignite and sustain combustion. Hazard ratings are based upon resistance to control; construction type is a primary driver. For example, rating or ranking of hazards could be assigned as follows:
- Low—Structures that consist of mainly fire-resistive or noncombustible materials
- Moderate—Structures that consist of an ordinary mix of construction materials
- High—Structures that consist of significant wood-frame or heavy timber materials
- Very High—Structures with combustible materials that share walls, attics, etc.
- Moderate to Extreme—Technological or hazmat exposure (CBRN)
Gear Test: Smoke Trainer's Smoke Identification Light: Helps firefighters stay visible in dense smoke conditions
By John Leivas
From the May 2010 Issue of FireRescue
Gear Test: Tactron's Command Center Board: Makes it easy to track units on scene
By Jim Schiller
From the September 2010 Issue of FireRescue
Are you currently using electronic command boards?
- Yes: 11%
- No: 89%
You're the IC. You have two 3-man engine companies arriving at a working house fire. You...
- Have both work together to get one line properly on the fire: 8 (15%)
- Have them work separately, getting two lines on the fire: 28 (52%)
- Have one stretch a line, the other perform truck duties: 18 (33%)