Recently, a well-respected fire service colleague and friend asked me and several others what we thought the fire service would look like in a decade. While the question was straight-forward, it started me thinking on the technological futurism of the fire service.
Reflecting on where we have been often provides insight into where we are going. Consider robotics, which have become part of all aspects of our lives, from manufacturing plants to operating room to living rooms. A robust and armed law-enforcement robot even clear buildings in tactical operations. Our military is heavily reliant on drones to carry out high-risk, complex missions without the risk to soldiers.
The innovation was simple — if you can dream it, we can build it.
The American fire service continues to change its attitude toward "acceptable" risk for interior fire operations in IDLH environments. The IAFC's “Rules of Engagement,” which encourages risk determination in “go and no go” decision-making, continues to take hold. Concepts such as “occupant survivability profiling” are being talked about to assess the likelihood of trapped civilians even having a probability of surviving an IDLH environment, if successfully rescued.
The robotics evolution could have fireground applications and increase firefighter safety.
According to an investigative report in the Bostonrevealed that over the past decade, fire departments were losing firefighters in structures where there was no civilian threat to life. This calls into question that bomb squads and law enforcement tactics work with robotics to clear structures of threats prior to or in advance of human forces, the United States military utilizes drones to provide “surgical” attacks in lieu of placing troops in hostile environments and manufacturing and medical tasks that are repetitive and prone to human fatigue error have also been introduced to robotics. Does robotics have a place on the fire ground of the future? Can robotics be built to withstand the hostile environment of a structure fire and advance with remote human guidance armed with thermal imaging technology, grappling hook for rescue and even extinguishing capabilities? Sound farfetched? No doubt so did the concept of robots in operating theaters and running a global war on terror with predator drones from a command center thousands of miles away.
The U.S. fire service must innovate its own need for technology for the advancement of safety and welfare of our fire service members. If not currently available or practical, fire service minds in partnership with innovators and builders can guide the future of the fire service to a safer and more technologically driven environment aimed at maximization of human firefighter resources.