Emergencies are not just something that gets called in and a first responder shows up. If there is an emergency, the person calling it in uses a phone to talk to a dispatcher on the other end of the phone. Phone calls for each department are fully documented and sorted within some type of technology. Technology affects every first responder in numerous ways with similarities and differences. When talking about first responders you think of policemen, firemen, and paramedics. Over time, the technology advanced, and all first responders have experienced a change that is also beneficial or not to their field of employment. The way each first responder’s department is run is based on their job and priorities to the community.
Each person interviewed was asked the same questions:
What type of technology is used in your career field/department?
What are the positives of each technology?
What are the negatives of each technology?
Do you wish you had any other type of technology that could better improve the field/department?
What source of applications do you use, for example, Microsoft word, PowerPoint, excel?
After asking the same questions, the floor was opened for them to add any more information they would like as well as cover different areas of questions not asked.
Sergeant Joseph Birch from Linden New Jersey Police Department
It is interesting to witness the change in a department and how it impacted Sergeant Birch throughout the years of working in the same department under different control of high authorities as the years progressed. IT for policing has probably grown faster and covers a broader scope of responsibilities than that of any other first responder. Gone are the days when police officers on the street would have to call on their radios to wait for a dispatcher to look up vital information on a desktop computer before transmitting the information back to the officer. With the invention of mobile data terminals that were put into police vehicles, approximately twenty years ago allowed for quicker motor vehicle inquiries and also brought with them less radio traffic and increased officer safety because officers could know within about a minute if a vehicle in question was stolen, unregistered, being operated by a violent offender or someone with a warrant. Nowadays laptop computers with cellular connections can do the same things that the desktop computers in headquarters can do so officers can find almost instantaneously the same information that previously took up minutes. This new information is also commonly accompanied by a photograph of what the registered owner looks like along with a detailed driver’s history of that person, this increasing the officer’s safety.
Automatic license plate readers have also become the norm in numerous departments across the United States over the past five years or so. Originally the readers were invented by repo companies so that they could sell data as to the whereabouts of a vehicle that is being sought by a bank or by a non-paying owner. This technology allows officers to drive down the street and scan every license plate that has just passed whether the vehicle is parked or moving. This information is then displayed onto the vehicle’s laptop and gives detailed information in such as which vehicles may have expired registrations, are stolen, or which registered owners might have outstanding warrants. This technology is also very useful when it comes to developing when and where a vehicle is commonly used and is extremely helpful for things such as Amber alerts.
In-car cameras, as well as body-worn cameras, have also seen significant changes over the past few years. Car cameras are now turned on immediately with the activation of police vehicles emergency lights through a Wi-Fi connection. Body cameras are turned on within a click of a button from the officer having to move from inside the vehicle to the scene. Amongst the discussion, another question arises for Sergeant Birch “How have body cameras improve police safety or do you believe it has not had that much of an impact?” While I would not say that body-worn cameras directly affected officer safety unless the information that is gathered is used for training purposes at a later date. I would go on to say that it definitely assisted us with positively affecting the public’s perception as to how certain situations occurred. If anything, body-worn cameras have drastically reduced the amount of Internal Affairs complaints that were typically lodged against officers because once a complainer finds out that there was a body-worn camera video, they usually change their mind about filing a report.
Hannah Miller, Volunteer Firefighter in Garwood New Jersey
Firefighters are our first responders who respond to all the fires in your local area. Their shifts consist of 24 hours on duty and 72 hours off. The majority of firefighters have a side job on their days off. Speaking to Hannah Miller, a senior at David Brearley High School in Kenilworth New Jersey, she explained how every firefighter has a pager that they keep at home and they all have radios at the firehouse which are used when they are at the station, at training, or on scene at a call. One thing that Hannah likes about the technology her department uses is that it is universal for each department (volunteer wise). A negative is that most of the technology like pages and radios are old and have been used for many years which causes them to be low on technology when they go to get fixed. A person or two people may have to stay out of the fire because they do not have a radio and sometimes that extra hand is needed on the scene. Hannah wishes that they had a responding system for when they get paged out. For her, it is difficult to get to the firehouse for the first truck/engine to go out because she does live about 4 miles away with traffic lights in between. She feels as though they should invest their money into a system where they can reserve their spot on the truck. Applications used throughout the department include word, excel, and PowerPoint. Excel has all of their different spreadsheets that are able to get updated from time to time, for example, call percentage, check-in for calls, logs. Microsoft word is used when they need to write out letters for the town or for mailing out donations. PowerPoint is used in their training otherwise known as classroom time. They are presented with a PowerPoint before going hands-on in training. All of this works together to perform technology in the fire service which has helped improve responses and reduce needless firefighter deaths. Due to limiting the cause of casualties within firemen, they all are required to wear a small GPS. This GPS allows whoever is outside of the fire to locate everyone inside the building to a command strip.
More technology amongst firemen is drones “(which) can serve several purposes. Drones can help with rapid-fire round assessment, providing a comprehensive picture of the scene” (PowerDMS). Hand-held thermal imaging cameras have been a regular part of firefighter tools and equipment for decades. Thermal imaging cameras have improved over the years, becoming smaller and more accurate. These cameras attached to their helmets freeing up the hands for other tasks (PowerDMS). Emilee Bernhardt, a volunteer firefighter in Anthracite Steam Fire Company talks about improvements in her department with technology. The ladder truck is a massive technological advancement her department has. She explains how instead of throwing ground ladders, they have the 100-foot stick (ladder trucks) to get them to the roof. An upgrade that has been made in neither Emilee or Hannah’s interview is that there is now an app out where you can respond to calls instead of pagers. The app is called “I am Responding” which is accustomed to show where the responder is and if you are or are not making your way to the station to get onto the engine.
Michelle Barrett, Paramedic in New Jersey
The Paramedic is a health professional whose primary focus is to provide advanced emergency medical care for critical and emergent patients who access the emergency medical system (National EMS Code of Practice Model). I asked Michelle Barrett who has been a paramedic for eighteen years about technology in her field as a first responder. When Barrett first started, she could not transmit the patients to the ER or DR so they could not see what she was able to see. As years moved on, they have progressed and she can now hit a button on her monitor and it is able to transmit to the computer screen in the emergency room. Now the doctor can see their electrocardiogram (EKG). The paramedics also just recently got modems which are 4G which obviously make it much faster to transmit now. Having a faster modem is important because if a person is having a MI (heart attack) and time is limited they can activate the cardiologist before the patient even arrives in the emergency room. As a paramedic Barrett and her team do not use much of excel or Microsoft word; however, she uses a system called ems charts and she has iPads where they can chart and obtain signatures for consent and transport. An ems chart “provides dynamic electronic data collection and management solutions for the emergency medical field” (emsCharts). As well as firefighters and policemen, paramedics use a radio to connect to the dispatch in regards to where they need to respond. The ambulance has a big impact on paramedics “In two mobile ICU ambulances, teleconferencing through the tablets helps paramedics treat and diagnose patients on their way to the hospital. The vehicles have been equipped with Wi-Fi and a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant audio-visual communication platform that allow ambulance staff to have a video consultation with hospital physicians at the flagship and children’s hospitals” (emsCharts).
Based on interviewing first responders from each type of first responder profession and approached them with the same set of questions based on their profession a different outcome came from all. Depending on where one works technology can be high standards or low. They can help first responders in numerous ways or be critical to their profession. All three professions have technology that they call their “radio”. The radio is able to connect to different departments and areas depending on where they are. For example, if there is a massive fire in a nearby town and all the engines are out and at the fire; however, they still need more engines and or engines from a nearby area need to be on call just in case another fire occurs in another area by the massive fire. For police officers, it is to contact other officers on the road as well as dispatch which is the head of connecting everyone on the road. Paramedics use their radios to let their dispatch know if they need more back up for the scene. It is said that the next set of Next Generation 911 will be able to communicate through photos, videos, text messages, voice recordings, and much more (PowerDMS).
There were numerous differences for each profession, some being the body cameras for police officers, ladder trucks for firemen, and modems for paramedics. No matter where you go in the world each department is under different types of supervision as well as technology. There are rich areas as well as poor areas that have a counter play in what they can or cannot afford. Next time a first responder is in the area or they have a tour, take advantage of it and look at the way technology is being used. Some may be things that are new, and they are still learning how to have it play a role at the scene and some may be old and cannot help what is going on at the time.
Barnhardt, Emilee. Personal Interview. 24 February 2020.
Barrett, Michelle. Personal Interview. 24 February 2020.
Birch, Joseph. Personal Interview. 23 February 2020.
“Login.” EmsCharts, www.emscharts.com/pub/logon.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2F.
Miller, Hannah. Personal Interview. 23 February 2020.
“National Registered Paramedics.” National Registry of EMTs, www.nremt.org/rwd/public/document/paramedic.
“Technology in the Fire Service.” PowerDMS, 3 Apr. 2018, www.powerdms.com/blog/technology-fire-service/.