How Dubai's 'flying firefighters' can aid the fire service

Moving past the cringes and gee-whiz reactions of the flying-over-water firefighter can make the fire service safer

Humans are born with more than 40 built-in reflexes. Some we outgrow, like the plantar reflex of toes curling when the balls of feet are rubbed. Some stay with us a lifetime, think blushing or kicking when whacked in the shin with a mallet.

Then there are the far less scientific mental reflexes we acquire with time and experience. Take parenting, for instance. Do it for a couple of decades and you’re bound to have some mental leg kicking when hit in the right place.

So when I saw the video of a firefighter barreling down a river on a Jet Ski-like craft, hopping off at an overpass to strap on a flyboard and being propelled some 20 feet to douse a car fire, reflexes took over.

The first mental reflex was something like: “Damn, that looks cool.” I am a guy, after all. But like the toe curling reflex, that one quickly passed and was replaced with my parental reflex.

My parental reflex was something like: “Get down from there before you break something, like your neck.” I’ve said that a lot in years past.

Come on, the guy is donned in bunker gear and a helmet on the water. He attacks a car fire with no SCBA or face protection. Worst of all, one weight distribution mistake and he’ll be slammed into that bridge like a bug meeting a speeding windshield. Still need convincing? Here’s 10 minutes of flyboard fails.

And for all that risk he’s taking, his extinguishing efforts would amount to little more than washing the car’s hood and right front fender were it really on fire.

The “get off my lawn you danged kids” old man in me wants to go off on the Dubai fire service for having way too much money and way too little direction. Seriously, a Corvette fast-attack vehicle?

But the grumpy old man will have to wait his turn. My other mental reflexive reaction to the video was one of “what if.” What if this and other ridiculous firefighting invention spurs further innovations that can actually benefit the fire service?

It’s no huge leap of the imagination to see the single-rider water craft replaced with a speed boat and the flyboard firefighter replaced by cameras and drone-like propellers. I can easily see a remote control, a piercing nozzle and foam eductor added into the mix to make a real fire attack.

Innovations come from different places, to be sure. But one thing those places share is that they are pushing the boundaries. Take, for instance, NASA’s expeditions to the moon, Mars and space — often criticized as wasted money.

There’s a long list of everyday things we use that were developed or improved upon for space travel. Radial tires, LED lights, firefighter proximity PPE, fire-resistive materials and artificial limbs are just a few of the nearly 2,000 items.

If this “chamber of commerce” video of a hose-wielding firefighter teetering on flyboards does nothing but blow up YouTube and inspire our most infantile reflexes, we all lose. If it inspires serious, mature innovation that improves firefighter safety, we all win.

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