Last month, I had coffee with a local fire chief and his deputy chief. The chief said he seriously was considering taking Wi-Fi out of the department’s fire stations. When I asked him why, he said he was frustrated with his firefighters being scattered around the station, holing up with their computers instead of spending time together.
Taking Wi-Fi out of fire stations isn’t going to solve the problem — firefighters simply could bring in air cards and other devices to connect themselves to the Internet. This is a widespread problem. When I take the train to work, I see more smartphones than newspapers or magazines. Internet addiction is a societal problem, not just a fire-department problem.
I called David Pacheco, principal and president of Pacheco-Ross Associates Architects, to learn more about trends in fire-station Wi-Fi. He said that most fire departments do specify Wi-Fi in their new or renovated buildings.
“You have to know about it up front and we still wire most stations with Category 6 cable because it’s the most secure,” Pacheco said. “What we’re doing is designing to put multiband a/b/g/n routers in them and placing them in places in the building along with repeaters and get the signal throughout the building.”
He added that most fire stations are still putting wire in their stations because you can get a higher bandwidth with fewer security problems. Departments could run station-alerting systems off wired systems as well as and voice-over-Internet systems.
“There are a lot of headaches with Wi-Fi, and it’s difficult to get an even distribution in fire stations, so the opportunity with using the cable is something else,” he said.
Still, some departments don’t want Wi-Fi in their stations.
“When it’s wired, you get to control what rooms get it and which don’t,” Pacheco said. “Some departments want bedrooms to have just a bed and a table — no TV jack or Wi-Fi in there because they are there all day instead of socializing.”
However Pacheco said with the proliferation of tablets, computer and smartphones, Wi-Fi is not going anywhere. “Departments need to use SOPs to control the Internet access.”
Pacheco also said that many fire departments opt to delay Wi-Fi installation until after the station has been built because the technology is changing too quickly.
“By the time you specify the equipment you want, it’s outdated, so a lot of time we provide a line item allowance and get the equipment in the future, but get the infrastructure ready for it,” he said.