Wearable tech is emerging as a potential resource for firefighting agencies. Across the nation, fire departments are investing in small cameras that can withstand high temperatures. These devices are mounted on a helmet to record exactly what a firefighter sees on a scene. Once captured, the information provides opportunities for potential gains in firefighter and fire victim safety.
Firefighters get more than video
Created at the Vienna University of Technology, ProFiTex is wearable technology designed to gather information captured by firefighters on a scene and create a color-coded representation of their surroundings. This imagery is formed with the help of cameras and sensors on the firefighter’s helmet, transmitting temperature readings to determine if rooms are safe to enter. The visuals can also be used to identify the location of people through the smoke, according to Wall Street Daily.
“We use the depth information to create a model of the environment, of the house or of a room – and then we map the thermal information onto that model,” explained ProFiTex co-developer Christian Schoenauer. “So what we get in the end is a textured 3-D model which, for example, could be sent to an operational commander in the firefighting scenario.”
While the prototypes are promising, developers want to ensure they are not causing first responders to overlook potential dangers through use of their system and project a false sense of safety. As the team continues to test ProFiTex, one of the biggest questions is how much information should be shown directly to firefighters, and how much should be analyzed by support teams after the event.
On-scene video is a training tool
A few departments are leveraging videos captured during emergency calls as part of firefighter training. First responders can watch the recordings together, analyzing the scene to ensure that protocol was followed and noting weak points that could be corrected in the future.
“It’s a training tool. We can critique our own fires, our errors, what our strong points are,” Chris Lamb, the assistant chief of the Cowpens Fire Department, told the Spartanburg Herald Journal. “It’s hard to verbally describe what happened. It’s easier to see it.”
Lower Southampton Fire Chief Steven Krippel would agree with this sentiment. He argued that the new technology, while only used a few times a year, is a valuable tool for departments. When used to dissect severe blazes, the cameras can pick up details firefighters may have missed in the moment, potentially informing arson investigations by the police.
“The video is used for a lot of reasons,” Krippel told The Associated Press. “Training videos are made for members to learn from. After fires, we always sit down with everyone and critique the fire. We look at what worked well and what didn’t work.”
Opposition to the technology remains
Despite the benefits wearable tech can have for firefighters, some are hesitant. Concerns about privacy tend to dissuade agencies from adopting cameras, while financial and legal issues are also worries for departments.
Krippel explained to The Associated Press that privacy is of the utmost importance. All videos, pictures and audio recordings are checked for people’s faces, addresses, license plates or other types of personal information before being released to the public. Northampton Fire Co. Chief Adam Selisker added that departments must review policies before adapting such tech, especially in an age of social media when one missed bit of information could easily have a widespread negative effect.
The presence of a camera on scene could change the dynamics of firefighting. According to the Spartanburg Herald Journal, any cameras used on duty must comply with established law, such as the records retention act and the Freedom of Information Act. That level of transparency could present legal problems for departments. Knowing firefighters are equipped with cameras might provoke civilians to act dangerously during an emergency, attempting heroics for which they are not qualified.
Although fire departments face challenges to institutionalize video capture, the benefit of an electronic record is persuasive. Having indisputable proof of procedures followed by a department can protect firefighters from legal ramifications and even increase safety in the future. Once trained in their use and maintenance, firefighters can leverage video artifacts to improve their skills, allowing them to focus on their mission while in the field.
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