Comment: December 2015
By Laura King
I’m at my desk, with my MacBook Pro plugged into a 24-inch flat-screen monitor and a three-terabyte back-up drive, a BlackBerry, iPhone, digital recorder, Nikon DSLR, wireless printer and all means of technology to help me do my job.
Am I doing my job better or more efficiently with these electronics than I did 25 years ago with a typewriter, land line, tape recorder and a 35-millimetre camera?
I certainly do more work with 21st-century tools than in the days of shorthand and carbon paper.
But I also do better work, as I should, given those two and a half decades of experience. Better, I believe, not because of technology, but because of skills that have been developed – millions of words written, hundreds of thousands of stories edited, along with mistakes made, lessons learned, relationships cultivated and, most importantly, practice, practice, practice. Sound familiar?
There have been myriad advancements in fire-service technology in the last 25 years but none is relevant without the skills necessary to read smoke, size-up an incident, give or take direction, communicate well, understand fire-ground hierarchy, complete a primary search, understand fire behaviour, rescue a victim, extricate a patient, effectively and efficiently put water on fire, and know how to do all those things by rote, without having to check a manual or app.
The difference, however, is that while reporters’ tools have changed, the environment in which we do our jobs is generally safe.
Firefighters, on the other hand, even with improved PPE and a better grasp of fire dynamics, can be at greater risk than their predecessors of a generation ago because of technology – lightweight construction and materials that make buildings burn faster.
GPS tracking technology has yet to be perfected, 16 years after six firefighters died in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse fire in Massachusetts.
What’s more, as Maria Church writes in our cover story on page 10, all the technology in the world can’t save a downed firefighter or occupant if the systems can’t talk to each other; that, according to the NFPA’s Casey Grant, is today’s challenge.
In the meantime it’s crucial to make decisions based on the skills and systems we know will work, and the ability of those on the fire ground to use them properly.
I’m not suggesting a return to petch coats and open cabs, just recognition that technology is nice but basic skills are crucial.
Firefighters do inherently dangerous work in environments not even considered 20 years ago; even with all today’s technology, firefighters can never train, drill and exercise too much to prepare for a job that has killed so many.
Practice, practice, practice.