FDNY Considers Firefighter Tracking Devices


Updated: 02-26-2007 11:57:50 AM

DAVID SEIFMAN
Courtesy of The New York Post


NEW YORK-- If a new Fire Department plan works out, every firefighter will have a chip on his shoulder - or near some other body part - capable of transmitting data to a firetruck and eventually to FDNY headquarters.

The high-tech plan is aimed at insuring that no firefighter ever goes missing, as occurred when off-duty and former firefighters rushed to the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Although GPS devices are now common, officials said the technology is just now being developed that would allow firefighters to log in and be tracked as they battle blazes.

The U.S. Navy Research Laboratory is working under contract with the FDNY to find a way of installing tiny chips capable of withstanding the rigors of smoke, fire and water.

"It's a small chip that would go inside the bunker gear, and it would be read by equipment installed on the [fire] apparatus," Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.

"It weighs almost nothing."

Initially, the chips would replace the roll call now used to make sure all firefighters are accounted for.

"You've got 200 firefighters at a fire. You're getting out of the building. You want this automated roll call. They go near the rig and that's it," one official said.

Added Scoppetta: "We've had periods of time when we didn't know immediately if a person was in or out of the building."

Ideally, officials hope any firefighter could walk over to a "reader" on any firetruck to log in.

By the time the program's in full swing, officials intend to transmit the data back to the FDNY operation center in Brooklyn, where top brass could trace the movements of every firefighter inside a burning building.

The FDNY already has the capability of displaying the schematics of virtually every building in the city.

Scoppetta said the idea is to "see the figures actually in the building. You'd know what floor they're on. How many are on the floor. You'd be able to communicate, warn them of conditions developing. That's what we're shooting for."

A preliminary test has been conducted in Queens, and officials called it a success.

Scoppetta said it would take at least a year to launch a full pilot project.

The city has spent $210,000 so far on research. The cost of the system - which would be the first of its kind in the nation - hasn't been determined.

The FDNY has already installed GPS devices in its ambulance fleet and on many firetrucks.

"We can now see over 57 of the engines as they move back and forth," Scoppetta said.

"Once we have computer-aided dispatch for fire, police and EMS, we can avoid multiple dispatches."

Scoppetta said privacy objections would be misplaced in this case.

"This is not Big Brother looking over your shoulder. This is something that the ultimate goal is really in protecting firefighters."

The city has spent $60 million in the last five years in new technology and training, including expanding the program for rookies at the Fire Academy from 13 to 23 weeks.

Republished with permission of The New York Post.
http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=46&id=53607