Although there is a running joke that firefighters are maintaining 200 years of tradition unhindered by progress, attendees of the 2022 IAFC International Technology Summit did their best to quell such mockery. For several days in October, presenters and sponsors showcased technological innovations that are already transforming fire operations and changing mindsets. The fire department is indeed progressing.
Speakers touched on similar themes while painting a picture of a future looming on the horizon. In just 10 years, many believe, fire departments will reap the benefits of technologies already in development or being tested.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, drones, and thermal imaging intersect, making it difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. The same goes for the data itself, often compiled from many sources of varying credibility. But the inherent fuzziness of categories doesn’t really matter – it’s in the collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas that innovation happens.
Here are six takeaways from the conference, highlighting the technology we’re likely to see advancing in 2023 and beyond:
1. The machines don’t come for your work
Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and machine reasoning are not meant to replace humans, but rather to free them to make better decisions faster.
Artificial intelligence is already processing data and helping humans make informed decisions based on factors such as risk assessment (eg which buildings should be inspected first). Data collected and plans developed in the pre-disaster environment will help promote information-based decision-making during a crisis.
Data collected from multiple and disparate sources (e.g. construction plans) ensures that critical situational awareness information (e.g. entry and exit points, locks, material storage and fire hydrant locations) are instantly available on any device when needed.
2. Decisions must be based on data
“No aspect of the fire service can improve with the proper application of data,” said John Oates of the International Public Safety Data Institute. “The data does not necessarily come from firefighters.”
If having data is good, isn’t having more data better? In this connected world, it’s easy to drown in a sea of information, most of which is irrelevant to the task at hand. Data needs context to be relevant. Being able to reduce the clutter is key to getting the data you need, when you need it, and linking relevant data sets together to gain actionable insights into a situation.
But connecting that data is the biggest challenge.
Fire technology leaders are looking for ways to link data sets using modern technological means, like application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow two software applications to talk to each other and share data.
“Linking public and private datasets and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to recognize patterns and make sense of the countless data points that are collected every day should be a major goal,” Oates said.
3. Improving firefighter safety is a key driver of innovation
Innovations in the fire service are often born out of tragedy. Losses of life from accountability lapses have spurred the development of technologies such as Personal Responsibility Management Systems (PAMS) that allow remote and directional feedback of firefighter location along the x-axes , y and z so that incident commanders can report on the location and safety status of all firefighters. on stage.
Other technologies, like hands-free augmented reality smart visors attached to a firefighter’s helmet or goggles worn under a face shield, overlay computer-generated information on raw and thermal images to improve firefighters’ vision, allowing you to see edges and ventilation points and to navigate through low visibility environments such as a smoky room.
Wearables are another area showing purpose and potential. Although personal wearable devices such as biometric trackers are not currently fire resistant, they can be worn during rehabilitation to measure heart rate and other vital signs and alert firefighters and command personnel to health issues. potentials.
4. Visual information is increasingly important
Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software overlaid on datasets collected from public and private sources provides an unprecedented ability to transform data points into visual and actionable information.
A multitude of data points can be connected to improve the situational awareness of fire crews and command personnel and help protect the public. Minute-by-minute weather measurements and historical records overlaid on topographic maps can predict fire behavior, indicating where fire crews should be deployed or public alerts or evacuations advised.
5. A common operating platform is essential for mutual aid
Whether man-made or natural, most major events such as wildfires, hurricanes, and floods require the mutual aid of multiple agencies that often work with different technologies on different platforms. A Common Operating Platform is an enhanced digital map that includes layers of information that paint a Common Operating Picture (COP) of an emergency incident. A COP, collected from shared and updated data, is essential to ensure real-time situational awareness at all levels of incident management and across all jurisdictions.
The California Office of Emergency Services has been at the forefront of developing a program to provide real-time intelligence data and analysis on emerging disasters in California. The system includes a Situational Awareness and Collaboration Tool (SCOUT) to facilitate cooperation between partner agencies, including local and regional emergency response agencies and national partners like the US Forest Service.
SCOUT is a mapping tool that provides a complete visual picture of the operational environment during an emergency incident. Map layers include weather conditions and forecasts, live feeds from fire cameras positioned around the state, live feeds of video footage from drones and aircraft, and an overview of all major incidents in the State (including hazardous material spills).
Interterra’s COP interface manages the exchange of information between agencies. The collaborative map visualizes CAD data, showing the location and status of each call, and pulls AVL feeds from devices, allowing incident commanders to see truck, engine and crew locations and take informed decisions on what resources to deploy where.
6. It’s time to flip the script
Thermal imaging video streamed from an airplane can identify fire hotspots, augmented reality can guide a firefighter through a smoke-filled building, and equipment like drones can take on tasks that are too boring, stupid or dangerous to humans, freeing them to do what they do best safely.
The technology that makes fire departments safer, more effective and efficient is available, but there are barriers to adoption, such as money, uncertainty, attachment to the status quo and, of course, resistance. to change.
The fire department typically takes a waterfall approach to adopting new technologies. It starts with gathering requirements, evaluating options, planning, building or buying, and then adopting the technology all at once department-wide.
During the summit’s closing session, Fire Chief Dan Munsey of San Bernardino County, Calif., suggested that fire departments would be well served to take a more agile approach to technology adoption. A department may start with small-scale use, such as free trial software, or work with manufacturers to test products in development. Use it, learn from it, experiment with it, add more use cases, and extend it to more teams and users.
Technology won’t solve all fire service problems, but it can help solve many. It can keep firefighters safe by keeping them better informed, with data inputs from multiple sources processed by artificial intelligence and machine learning to surface the most contextually relevant information.
The technologies discussed here barely scratch the surface of those options used or developed for fire departments, from apps that connect communities to first responders to robots that perform dangerous and dirty work, exoskeletons that enable superhuman strength, stable and fast satellite communications and 360-degree virtual reality training that comes as close to reality as possible in complete safety. In 10 or 20 years, today’s seemingly futuristic technologies and best practices will become mainstream realities for government departments, making first responders and their communities safer and more resilient in a rapidly changing world.
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