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Implementing AI in the fire service: A technological shift

Exploring the many ways AI to enhance our organizations

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It’s hard to escape the constant news and chatter around artificial intelligence. AI is a game-changer in the tech world – and, really, in everyday life – and it’s here to stay. The fire service is no exception, and it’s time for fire officials to embrace these changes and understand how AI can impact their organizations and the fire service as a whole.

No one is saying or advocating that AI replace firefighters, but there are some areas where the technology can, and likely will be, used in future fire service operations. Just as the PC replaced the typewriter, AI is revolutionizing industry, and we must anticipate and consider its usefulness in order to stay competitive, relevant and knowledgeable as a service.

Defining AI

Before we dive into use cases, we should take a moment to define AI, as there has been confusion and misinterpretation among the masses.

AI is the intelligence of machines and software, basically a learning computer. Software programs and machines learn from various inputs from the user and adjust their algorithms or outputs accordingly. Essentially you, the user, collect research and data and then create the algorithm that the program will use. Your search engine is a good example that you might not have realized is AI. As you search for things on the internet, the search history adjusts to your preferences and gives you the results it thinks you want.

The field of AI is vast and can be quite complicated, but it’s important to know that you’ve been using it for years. Applications such as Siri and Alexa are examples of AI search engines. Social media platforms use AI to filter and feed news articles and ads based on your likes and interests. AI will continue to evolve and contribute to more and more of our daily operations.

Now, let’s explore how additional ways AI can be implemented into the fire service.

Calls for service and station location

Fire departments large and small must occasionally evaluate the locations of fire stations and service delivery. Executive fire officers use data from past years to survey trends, identify areas where there is a higher incident of calls, and also identify high-hazard targets that require more fire protection. Organizing and compiling the data is time-consuming and painstaking, although not impossible. AI could render those same results in seconds. Consider an AI system that constantly monitors the background of your dispatch system and logs those same trends. With a few computer keystrokes or a voice activated algorithm like Siri, you could have a report formatted and generated to take right to the elected leaders for justification purposes. The same AI system could identify an increase in calls to a certain area of your jurisdiction and forward deploy resources to reduce response time.

Artificial intelligence will require the fire service to make even more changes than the lithium-ion battery fire response crisis

Inventory and tracking

In your organization, who is responsible for restocking the EMS supplies or ordering computer paper? Where does the coffee come from? Do we really know how many uniforms have been issued and who has what gear? Supply officers and quartermasters must track everything from PPE to EMS supplies and everything in between, on top of making runs, completing reports, house chores, training, fire inspections, station tours and more. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an AI system that could track those resources for you, learn your schedules and automatically generate a purchase order when necessary? The key is the machine learning the routine and adjusting accordingly. How much more efficient could that operation be? More importantly, how much more time could be freed for first responders?

EMS quality assurance

Imagine an AI system that could scan all EMS run reports and report errors on medications and protocol violations? Perhaps that same system could look for time discrepancies in 12 lead EKG acquisition from the on-scene arrival. The system could compare actual data to national goals of getting an EKG within 10 minutes of on scene arrival. An AI program like this could be used to improve EMS systems.

EMS and hospital interoperability

What if an AI system existed that could show in seconds what hospitals were full and what hospitals had availability for EMS patients? For departments that conduct EMS transports and have had crews that must wait on a room, it would be interesting if an AI system could disclose, or even reserve, a room for EMS transport units going to the emergency room. This kind of system could better inform crews and improve transport times and improve the service delivery of hospitals to our citizens.

Large gatherings

AI systems can be used as a real-time monitoring device for public safety applications. For the fire service, this could mean programming an AI system that analyzes the patterns of people via camera and identifies those that break the pattern. Who would break such a pattern? Someone who collapses from sudden cardiac arrest or a seizure in the middle of a concert could be identified and detected faster. From a terrorism response perspective, pattern recognition could help to deter potential threats by identifying individuals with bags or backpacks, similar to some technology that is fielded by law enforcement toady.

In sum

AI is not something to fear or to dismiss, but rather is a tool to put to use to help us. Just as we use portable radios instead of speaking trumpets, and used motorized apparatus instead of horse-drawn steamers, AI can be a useful and meaningful tool to enhance our organizations. It will not take the place of a well-trained and well-equipped firefighter ready to serve the citizens and save lives, but AI could help firefighters have more time to focus on the mission and improve our training.

Trevor Frodge is the bureau chief of training for the West Chester Fire Department in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a nationally registered paramedic, fire and EMS instructor, and fire inspector. Frodge is a member of the Butler County Technical Rescue Team, as well as a Hazardous Materials Specialist for Ohio Task Force 1.