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Top 5 firefighting products of 2014 and 5 I'd like to see in 2015

There were some incredibly innovative firefighting tools introduced this year and an equally incredible amount of work left to do on that front


I'm really excited to tell you about my top five new products that appeared on the scene in 2014 because all five were developed by firefighters for firefighters. How cool is that?

So without further ado, here we go.

5. Firefighter Log
Fire Engineer Patrick Jackson of the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Fire Department is the man behind this app for Google Glass that's available on both the iOS and Android operating systems. FirefighterLog converts text dispatch data into Google navigator to provide firefighter-engineers with GPS-based driving directions to an incident. 

When users receive a text message from dispatch, the app uses mapping software to display location information in conjunction with CADpage, a separate app users must download first. CADpage receives short message service pages from a centralized computer-aided dispatch system.

In conjunction with CADpage, the FirefighterLog presents options for mapping the call, driving directions and other data to a registered user's smartphone — using cloud computing over commercial wireless networks.

"Integrating it directly into the CAD system allows for quicker notification and more complete information available to first responders using secure communications," said Jackson.

4. Vehicle Immobilization System Touch Activated brake lock
VISTA inventor Randy Smathers, who recently retired as a deputy fire chief with the Seminole (Fla.) Fire Rescue Department, was inspired by the need to prevent apparatus left unattended and running on scene from being stolen and rolling away.

To prevent apparatus roll away, VISTA employs individual sensors that monitor the park brake valve position (road or park), the driver's door (open or closed) and the driver's seat (occupied or unoccupied). If the system detects the park brake valve in the road position and door open and seat unoccupied, it will send a signal and deploy valve to the park position automatically. No roll away.

The VISTA brake lock is also an effective anti-theft device that's simple to use. The operator pulls the air brake knob to activate. To disconnect the air brakes, the driver enters an access code using the installed keypad to engage a solenoid that releases the air brakes.

The system uses four- to eight-digit codes with more than 1 million code combinations that the department can change at any time.

3. Roof Operations Safety Platform
Firefighter Derron Suchodolski, president of Practical Fire Equipment, saw a need for firefighters' roof operations safety after his department experienced budget cuts. The Roof Operations Safety Platform provides a safe and solid place for your foot when you need to leave the safety of the ladder.

The ROS Platform is compliant with OSHA 1910.27, which states that a person must have secure footing while on a roof. Using the head of an ax or other type of tool is not considered secure footing. 

The ROS Platform is supported by the trusses and does not solely rely on the sheeting of the roof. 

2. Hydrant Snorkel
Every year, 3 million fire hydrants are buried in more than 72 inches of snow. On average, it takes 20 minutes to dig and move to the next hydrant; the Hydrant Snorkel eliminates this problem. 

The Hydrant Snorkel's creator, Lt. John Creel, a retired 23-year veteran with the Hoodland (Ore.) Fire Department, found a way to establish water flow from hydrants deep under snow.

The Hydrant Snorkel is a riser pipe that can be attached to any dry fire hydrant outlet either permanently or before snow starts falling. Once attached, the riser pipe takes a soft 90-degree angle up, commonly to a distance of 9 feet above ground; the riser pipe can go as high as needed and the maximum to date is 17 feet.

The hydrant also has an extension that travels up alongside the same path as the riser pipe.

Along the length of the pipe, there are multiple ports that can be accessed by a firefighter, and a supply hose can be attached at whatever height works best for the snow depth.

1. Sigelock Spartan hydrant
Retired New York City firefighter George Sigelakis, founder and creator of the hydrant, saw a need to redesign the conventional fire hydrant after learning how easy it was to access them, steal water and damage the hydrant to the point of making it inoperable.

"I set out to redesign the hydrant so that firefighters would have a more reliable and safer tool at their disposal while trying to save people's lives and property," he said. "The Spartan shields the operating nut inside a ductile iron clamshell that can only be accessed with the Sigelock all-in-one wrench. If contractors, vandals, kids playing in the street can't open the hydrant and potentially damage it, then that makes it more secure for first responders during an emergency."

These are some pretty outstanding products that are going to make firefighters safer, more effective, and more efficient as they go about their jobs.

Last year at this time, I wrote about five new products that I'd like to have seen on the market because they, too, would have made firefighters more safe, effective, and efficient. As I look back upon that list, I only see one product that's now on the market, a smart smoke and CO detector from Nest.

So, like any good incident commander, I'm not altering the objectives of the incident action plan because the "objectives" in this case are still extremely relevant. We need to keep pushing for these products because they will one day make huge contributions to the improved safety and efficiency and effectiveness of what we do on the emergency scene.

1. Integrated SCBA facepiece and four-gas monitor
I'm feeling a lot better now after seeing Fire Engineer Jackson's work with Google Glass. Now, if he can do that with a couple thousand dollars in seed money, I think there's got to be a manufacturer who can put these two together into one package with an in-mask display.  

Along with that feature, I'd like to see the capability to seamlessly switch from breathing cylinder air to filter mask functionality during overhaul only after the monitor readings are below acceptable limits.

2. Portable water removal systems
It's a tough and continuing battle, but we are becoming more successful at getting fire sprinkler systems installed in more occupancies, especially residential dwellings. We still need to have better tools for safe, effective and efficient removal of water following fire suppression.   

The opponents to residential sprinklers are going to continue to hammer us on the water damage issue, just as they've always done, in their attempts to thwart our efforts to get sprinklers in every type of occupancy. We need tools that get the water up and out quicker and more thoroughly.

3. Portable traffic management zone equipment
Not a day goes by that I don't read or hear about another firefighter or EMT working at a motor vehicle crash site getting injured or killed by an inattentive driver.

We can't continue to rely on road flares, traffic cones, and personnel with flashlights to guide and direct other vehicles safely away from first responders. Drivers just are not paying attention.

I am not exactly sure what this will look like, but I do know that it should be highly visible, compact and transportable aboard fire and EMS apparatus, easily deployed, and be affordable. That's not too much to ask, right?

4. National standard for training and certification
Although not a product per se, its creation would likely give rise to several education and training tools. Since the beginning of EMS in the United States, there has been one standardized training curriculum for basic EMTs and for paramedics.

There is a National Registry for EMTs and paramedics that make it possible for an individual to move from one state to another without having to complete a training program that they've already completed and for which they are certified.

EMTs and paramedics have to engage in continuing education and recertify on a regularly scheduled basis. It's time for the fire service to follow the lead of its emergency response cousins in this regard.

5. 100 percent reporting to the National Fire Incident Reporting System
This is one of those things that only firefighters can do for firefighters. The U.S. Fire Administration and manufacturers have done their part by giving us NFIRS and reporting software respectively. We control the most important input: what we learn from every fire.

We've got a vast number of great tools and technologies that help us do the job better and more safely than ever before. But we could be doing much better at garnering financial support — to reverse the trend of doing more with less — for the work firefighters do every day.

And to do that we've got to have the facts from NFIRS that accurately describe the continuing fire problem that plagues the United States.

I've no doubt that there many firefighters and officers who still say things like, "Computers don't put out fires."

No they don't, but they can have a huge impact on our ability to obtain funding from local, state and federal governments, grant programs, and private and corporate donations. And without that financial support, a lot of the other tools and apparatus needed to do the job never get purchased.

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