We’ve been using wireless technology for years. Two-way radios have gotten smaller, and the technology within them has changed drastically, but the premise is the same today as it was when we first started using them–we press a button, speak into a mic, and the guy inside hears us. Today though, wireless technology has grown by leaps and bounds, and the fire service is slowly but surely making use of some of the wireless gadgets out there.
One of the more popular wireless handheld devices is the Palm Pilot personal digital assistant (PDA). Palm Pilots can be used for simple tasks, such as an electronic date book or an electronic card file, or can be set up as wireless communications devices capable of connecting to the Internet using a wireless modem.
The San Mateo County Office of Public Safety Communications has deployed Palm VII Series PDAs to contact fire apparatus in the field, perform alphanumeric paging, open bay doors at the fire station, and monitor equipment rosters. These devices are even used to help ensure firefighter safety on the fireground. Chief officers can track down firefighters at their assignment locations and on the fireground.
Logging building inspections, maintaining an equipment database, and tracking expenses are among some of the other myriad uses for these devices in the fire service.
There are challenges as well as advantages for fire departments adopting this technology. One challenge has been building and deploying wireless local area networks (WLANs) that connect all of the department’s computing devices. Once the WLANs are up and running, they must be maintained. Technology is ever expanding, and keeping up with it can be quite a chore and might not be cost-effective for some departments. The most important thing department administrators should be aware of is that there is technology out there that could make their jobs easier and improve the safety of their firefighters.
Be sure to consider the needs of your individual department before jumping on board with this new technology. Just keep in mind that in the future these devices could end up being as commonplace as the two-way radio sitting in its charger on the truck or in your station.