The fire service is a hardware-oriented society. In true American fashion, we prefer to solve our problems mechanically rather than cerebrally. This is especially true of our safety efforts. So far, they have been directed largely toward providing a fire-resistant cocoon for firefighters instead of teaching us how to recognize dangerous conditions and refrain from unsafe acts. This “condom concept” might have more merit if it encompassed all the high-technology opportunities available; however, what we have presently could well be described as “low-tech.”

Are we content to depend on a variant of a New Year’s noisemaker to alert the command post that a firefighter’s life is in danger? And w’hat safeguards are being used to alert a firefighter that he is venturing into imminent flashover, or that he is overtaxing his heart or other vital organs? Why don’t we adapt presently available electronics to prevent firefighter deaths and injuries?


Microprocessors of tiny dimensions are available to detect and display data. Look into the viewfinder of your camcorder; it can tell you about 12 items of interest dealing with varying conditions, all of them sensed and displayed by a miniature microprocessor powered by a dime-sized battery.

Have you ever seen a pacemaker? It’s hardly bigger than a watch; it fits under a person’s skin; and it not only controls the heartbeat, but it also gives a readout several pages long of vital information about the heart it is monitoring.

Admittedly, a camcorder is not cheap, and a pacemaker is expensive as well; but how about a language translator capable of translating 18,000 words into five languages? It is also a full-function calculator, converts metric to English, and does a few other tasks—all for a price of S 29.95. It is slightly larger than a credit card.

Available are small, compact, and lightweight microprocessors that, when properly programmed, can project a digital readout in a corner of a breathing apparatus face piece, just as in the case of the camcorder eye piece. What could they display? Well, one probe already in use in modern hospitals displays body core temperature when placed in the ear. Another probe could monitor pulse rate. An exterior probe could measure ambient temperature or radiant heat flux, causing a symbol to flash when flashover is impending. When any display indicates an imminent danger, the firefighter would have the opportunity to react in a safe manner.

Electronics could be used to monitor the location and condition of the firefighter and his breathing apparatus, with signals being sent each way. This technology is available now, and efforts are being made in England to provide radio signal locators for firefighters.

Police officers (and some fire departments) have not only car radios but also front-seat computers and hip-pocket radios that allow them to call anyone from their supervisor to their senator. Some police cars now have a digital readout projected on the windshield.

So, if we in the fire service wish to put emphasis on safety through hardware, shouldn’t we demand that which will give the best protection?

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