IAFC Technology Summit forecasts future fire service tech

Although the fire service is said to uphold a 200-year tradition of unimpeded progress, attendees at the 2022 IAFC International Technology Summit did their best to quell such mockery. Over several days in October, speakers and sponsors showcased technological innovations that are already changing firefighter operations and changing mindsets. Firefighters are indeed making progress.

The speakers hit on similar themes as they painted a picture of the future just over the horizon. In as little as 10 years, as many suggest, firefighters will be reaping the benefits of technologies that are already in development or testing.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, drones, and thermal imaging are intertwined, making it difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. So is the data itself, often compiled from many sources of varying credibility. But the inherent vagueness of the categories isn’t really important—it’s in the collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas that innovation happens.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, drones, and thermal imaging are intertwined, making it difficult to know where one ends and the other begins.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, drones, and thermal imaging are intertwined, making it difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. (Photo/Getty)

Below are six takeaways from the conference, focused on the technology we’re likely to see progress in 2023 and beyond:

1. Machines will not come for your work

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and machine reasoning are not intended to replace humans, but rather to enable humans to make better decisions faster.

AI is already crunching data and helping people make intelligent decisions based on factors such as risk assessment (eg which buildings need inspection first). Data collected and plans created in the pre-disaster environment will help support informed decision-making during a crisis.

Data collected from multiple disparate sources (e.g. building plans) ensures that information critical to situational awareness (e.g. entry and exit points, door locks, hazardous material storage and hydrant locations) is instantly available on any device when needed.

2. Decisions should be based on data

“No aspect of the fire service can be improved by the proper application of data,” said John Oates of the International Public Safety Data Institute. “The data doesn’t necessarily come from the fire department.”

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If it’s good to have data, isn’t it better to have more data? In this connected world, it is easy to drown in a sea of ​​information, most of which is not relevant to the task at hand. For data to be relevant, it needs context. It’s critical to be able to cut through the clutter to get the data you need, when you need it, and connect relevant data sets together to gain actionable information about the situation.

But connecting this data is the biggest challenge.

Leaders in fire technology are looking for ways to connect data sets using modern technology means such as application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow two software applications to communicate with each other and share data.

“Connecting public and private data sets and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to recognize patterns and understand the incalculable data points that are collected every day should be the main focus,” Oates said.

3. Improving firefighter safety is a key driver of innovation

Innovation in the fire service is often born out of tragedy. The loss of life due to accountability failures has prompted the development of technologies such as Personal Accountability Management Systems (PAMS), which allow remote and directional feedback of a firefighter’s position along the x, yz axes so that incident commanders can be accountable for the location and safety status of all firefighters. on the scene.

Other technologies, such as hands-free augmented reality smart visors attached to a firefighter’s helmet or goggles worn under a face shield, layer computer-generated information on raw and thermal images to enhance firefighters’ vision, allowing them to see edges and ventilation points and navigate through . low visibility environment such as a room full of smoke.

Wearables are another area that shows purpose and potential. Although personal wearable devices such as biometric trackers are not currently fireproof, they can be worn during rehabilitation to measure heart rate and other vitals and alert firefighters and command staff of potential health problems.

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4. Visual information is increasingly important

Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software overlaid with datasets collected from public and private sources brings an unprecedented ability to transform data points into visual, actionable information.

A myriad of data points can be linked to improve the situational awareness of fire crews and command staff and help protect the public. Minute-by-minute weather measurements and historical records overlaid on topographic maps can predict fire behavior, inform where fire crews should be deployed, or recommend public warnings or evacuations.

5. A common operating platform is essential for mutual assistance

Whether man-made or natural, most major events such as wildfires, hurricanes and floods require the mutual assistance of multiple agencies, often working with different technologies on different platforms. The Joint Operations Platform is an enhanced digital map that contains layers of information that create the Joint Operations Picture (COP) of an emergency. Collected from shared, up-to-date data, COP is essential to ensure real-time situational awareness at all levels of incident management and across jurisdictions.

The California Office of Emergency Services spearheaded the development of a program to provide real-time intelligence and analysis of emerging disasters in California. The system includes a Situational Awareness and Cooperation Tool (SCOUT) to facilitate collaboration between partner agencies including local and regional emergency response agencies and national partners such as the US Forest Service.

SCOUT is a mapping tool that provides a comprehensive visual picture of the operational environment during an emergency. Map layers include weather conditions and forecasts, live feeds from fire cameras located throughout the state, live video feeds from drones and aircraft, and an overview of all major incidents in the state (including hazardous material spills).

Interra’s COP interface manages the exchange of information between agencies. The collaborative map visualizes CAD data, shows the location and status of each call, and downloads AVL feeds from the device, allowing incident commanders to see the locations of trucks, engines and crews and make informed decisions about what resources to deploy where.

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6. It’s time to flip the script

Thermal imaging video streamed from an aircraft can identify fire hotspots, augmented reality can guide firefighters through a smoky building, and hardware like drones can take over tasks that are too boring, stupid or dangerous for humans, allowing them to safely do what they do best .

The technology to make the fire service safer, more efficient and more effective 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 service typically uses a waterfall approach to adopting new technology. It starts with gathering requirements, evaluating options, planning, building or purchasing, and then adopting the technology in one broad, department-wide foray.

At the final session of the summit, Fire Chief Dan Munsey of San Bernardino County, California, suggested that the fire service would be well served to adopt a more agile approach to technology adoption. The department may start with small-scale usage, such as free trials of software or working with manufacturers to beta test products in development. Use it, learn from it, experiment with it, add more use cases, and extend it to more teams and users.

Looking ahead

Technology won’t solve every problem in the fire service, but it can help solve many. It can keep firefighters safer by keeping them better informed, with data input 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 the possibilities being used or developed for the fire service, from apps that connect communities with first responders, to robots that do dangerous and dirty work, to exoskeletons that enable superhuman strength , stable and fast satellite communication. and 360-degree virtual reality training that comes as close to reality as safely as possible. In 10 or 20 years, the seemingly futuristic technologies and best practices of today will become a common reality for departments, making first responders and their communities safer and more resilient in a rapidly changing world.


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