Technology is weaved all throughout the fire service. It has been for a long time. We have thermal imaging cameras, GPS locaters tied into our PASS devices, mobile data computers that tell us where to go, and where all of our hydrants are, and even fire apparatus that will set their own pressures with the simple push of a button. I am not saying that any of these things are bad, but are we beginning to become dependent upon technology? Technology has helped us save lives, improve performance, and sometimes made our job just that much easier. The important thing to remember that an over reliance on technology will make you operate at a substandard level. This technology may give you a false sense of security at times. Technology is a tool for us and shouldn’t be a stand-alone solution to everything. Coupled with instinct, preparation and proper training, technology can be used very effectively. An overelaice can lead to ineffectiveness.
I can remember walking into the firehouse one morning to make relief. I looked into the truck and noticed a small GPS that was sitting on the dashboard of the truck. I sat there and scratched my head for a second before asking the firefighter I was relieving, “what do you need that for? You know we have a map on the wall?” He responded back saying that he uses it on every call he goes on, that it helps him learn the district. I can see that to a point. When these GPS device are manufactured do you think the take into account traffic? How about trains that may be in your district? What about alternative ways into the scene? None of that is built in there. The best way to learn your district is to get out and drive around in it, and not just when you are responding to and from calls. Every Sunday in the firehouse was streets day. When streets day came around we all knew that for at least the first few hours of the shift we would drive all over our district. Our Captain had a well thought out game plan. We would start right from the top of the alphabet. Depending on how many streets there were we would do the A and B streets, followed by the next one or two letters the next Sunday shift. We would write them all down and all of us would stare study the map book like it was going to be on the next promotional exam. Once we had them down, out the door we went. We would drive around to all of those streets. This exercise did several things for us. The first was it made us learn our district and be able to make it to an address in the absence of a computer or GPS device. Second, we were able to constantly look at the buildings in specific response areas. The last part to me was always what made me enjoy Sundays at the firehouse. While driving around the conversation was always focused on our strategies and our tactics. We would pick building and just have conversations about where we would stretch, the assignments we would make and much more. To me, this was the best part about those Sundays.
Our fire apparatus are designed today to have set pressures once a line comes off the truck. We have several trucks in our city that once the line comes off, the operator selects the appropriate cross lay, hits a soft key and the pressure automatically goes up. There is no throttling, calculating friction loss, or any gating back when you are bringing a supply line to your intake; everything is done for you. This form of technology or special design, really allows for complacency and comfort. If all we ever did was push a button when the line comes off, how do we know the right thing to do when these features fail? Maybe the shift before didn’t replace a length, maybe there is a different nozzle, maybe you are now going up in elevation. There are many variables that show up and we have to be ready for them. The other day I asked an operator what they set their pump discharge pressure (PDP) at when it comes off the cross lay. Their response was, “I’m not exactly sure, whatever the truck is set at right now”---Seriously? I think I started to twitch and have a mini seizure when he said that to me. If you are not out there practicing and preparing for the time when these features will not work, you are setting yourself up for failure. These trucks sure are nice, and when those switches and governors fail, there is no genie in the bottle that will appear and make it all better. It is up to you!
I think you all understand my point. I have only listed a couple examples. There are sevrral other that I am sure you can think of. Technology is a good thing for the fire service when used in the right application. Do not allow yourself to get comfortable and lose the essential skills necessary to perform in the absence of this tech-shield. If at that moment when technology is not there, that feeling of helplessness will come over you like a warm blanket if you haven’t prepared. Make sure you are incorporating “Murphy” into your training and not always relying on some computer chip to do your job for you. We all know that sucker likes to show up, and he will show up.