During meetings last week in Florida, I met with several manufacturers from different segments of the fire-service industry. Each conversation evolved around new technology in emergency response, be it for data collection or enhanced safety.
For instance, FirePrograms Software last year introduced a maintenance program that can record data from practically every part of a vehicle. The program also can record the starts, stops, acceleration and deceleration of a responding vehicle. If an apparatus exceeds a set speed, the program can alert an officer or the chief.
FireProgram President Gary Ewers and I discussed the pros and cons of so much information. The information is valuable from a diagnostic standpoint. It’s valuable from a training standpoint, as well, as the information recorded could also monitor an operator’s performance with the vehicle. Ewers also said such information can be extremely valuable in the event of a lawsuit and amid accusations of delayed response or arrival.
But is monitoring such information precautionary or Big Brother-esque?
In the private sector, courts have allowed corporations to monitor their employees’ computers. Why shouldn’t fire departments monitor the use of their vehicles and equipment to protect themselves from liability issues?
I later spoke with Grady North, a product manager at E-One, about the addition of video data recorders on apparatus required by NFPA 1901. The data recorder contains a seven-day history of the vehicle and its movements. The must be loaded on a USB drive and transferred to a computer to be viewed.
“How many departments really go in and review the data on that VDR,” North asked, suggesting that most do so only after an emergency.
The conversations made me wonder about the increasing number of safety devices in cabs, many prompted by the deaths of unbuckled firefighters. Between seatbelts, airbags and alerting devices for the unbelted, it could be argued that Big Brother also is invading the cabs to protect firefighters from themselves.
How much more can NFPA standards — particularly 1901 — do to protect firefighters? Each time NFPA requires new equipment, the price of the vehicle goes up. Manufacturers claim the end users are demanding these devices; the end users claim the manufacturers are adding the equipment. Perhaps it’s time to make it less about equipment and more about personal responsibility and/or discipline.