Technological Advances To Benefit Fire Fighters

Technological Advances To Benefit Fire Fighters


The Volunteers Corner

Personal protection will continue to become increasingly important in the volunteer service, and the department that does not obtain sufficient protective equipment as it is developed will find itself with insufficient manpower. Most of us know at least one wife who opposes volunteer fire fighting for her husband because of the possibility that he may be seriously injured.

In the 70s, the fire fighter who is felled by smoke will be an exception. He won’t be primarily a fire casualty but an administrative casualty because his department has been negligent in failing to equip him with breathing apparatus or to insist that he use it. Lighter and longerlasting breathing equipment will undoubtedly be available, and municipalities will be under greater pressure to spend more money on equipment as an alternative to losing volunteer dedication and shifting to the far greater expense of a paid department.

The equipment emphasis will be on light weight—whether it is hose, nozzles, fittings, ladders or protective clothing. But the lightness will not be attained by any sacrifice in efficiency. A man will be able to handle more hose that has less friction loss and greater abrasion and chemical resistance. Lighter turnout coats will provide greater protection from heat.

Less exertion: The effect of these developments will be less physical exertion for full crews fighting a fire, or better handling of fires by companies troubled with a shortage of manpower. This should alleviate the criticism faced by volunteer departments that are struggling to fill up daytime gaps in their ranks.

Communications advances also will benefit volunteers. The development of modestly priced personal radio receivers small enough to be carried in a shirt pocket will extend the availability time of volunteer fire department members. The electrician, carpenter or other workman busy on a job in a section of town out of range of his fire whistle will still be able to pick up an alarm. You will hear fewer excuses of “I was working in a house on Faraway Lane and didn’t hear the whistle.”

Home print-out alarm: Some 30 years ago experiments were started on facsimile equipment using land wires that would produce a modified version of a newspaper in a home. This equipment could be developed to print the location and time of an alarm in a volunteer’s home so that notification would be waiting for him when he returned home. Firemen who might miss an audible alarm by 5 or 10 minutes would still be able to beef up the fireground forces at a working fire or an extended rescue job.

New extinguishing agents and radically different methods are in our future. It is expected that they will require less manpower and less physical effort. Experiments have been conducted with a chemical-loaded “bomb” that can be shot into a blazing room. When the bomb bursts and splashes the room with the chemical ingredients, the fire is knocked down so that small lines can be taken to the seat of the fire for final extinguishment. The use of inert exhaust gases from gas turbines also is being considered.

Thought has also been given to the use of sound waves to extinguish fire. This has already been done in the laboratory and in demonstrations with small flames. We need to know more about the effect of more extensive use of sound waves on people and structures. Using sound waves to extinguish a fire would not be practical if the waves demolished the building or injured fire fighters. But again, this equipment should require little manpower and thus solve the daytime response problem of bedroom suburbs where most of the volunteers work out of town.

Automatic transmissions: Mechanical advances also will have an effect on the volunteer fire service. The trend to heavier apparatus necessitates the use of larger engines, which require more operating skill with standard transmissions. The answer for volunteers will be the increasing use of automatic transmissions. These make it easier for men accustomed to driving autos with automatic transmissions to operate fire apparatus engines at the optimum rpm range. This is particularly important with diesels, which have a narrower optimum range than do gasoline engines.

The automatic transmission also gets away from lugging, which is one of the most damaging driving practices, particularly with the larger horsepower engines. Few volunteers, unless they are truck drivers, get enough road experience with fire apparatus to downshift expertly.

The foregoing, of course, is not limited to the volunteer service because paid departments are faced with the same problems. Easier, more efficient ways of operating and the extinguishment of fires with less manpower are challenges to all fire departments that hopefully will be met in the 70s.

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