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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Drones—Coming to a Squad Car Near You

A DJI Phantom Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
Last year during the LMCIT spring workshops we offered a course titled "Keeping the Horse in Front of the Cart, How to Stay Compliant in a World of Rapidly Changing Technology." At the end of the presentation we showed a photograph of a small drone and joked that "at next year's 2015 workshops we would probably include a model policy for law enforcement's use of drones." The officers chuckled, but it appears our attempt at humor may have foretold the very near future.

To get up to speed you may want to view a 31 minute podcast from the University of North Dakota Department of Aerospace Center for Unmanned Aviation Systems (UAS). The podcast is titled "Small UAS and Law Enforcement."

In the podcast Assistant Professor Al Frazier predicts that police officers with UAS may soon be used similar to canine officers. It is likely that when a police officer or fire commander needs an overhead view of a call or needs to improve their situational awareness they will call for a "drone car". The officer or the firefighter will respond and launch a small UAS with an on-board camera to get an eye in the sky to look for the lost child, find the suspect who fled on foot, or fly over the hazardous materials spill or large wild land fire.

There may be other municipal uses for UAS including in assisting in special event planning and in damage assessments after a severe storm. The technology is here and with UAS incidents regularly making headlines and with the FAA and others sorting out how they are regulated we may indeed have the horse in front of the cart for a while. There are also privacy concerns being raised as this new technology is being rolled out.

It appears that UAS may be a
public safety tool in the near future.
Currently a fire department, police department, or city needs to obtain a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA to operate a UAS. The certificate determines who can pilot the craft, the training requirements, the conditions for flight, the flight area, the hours of operation, and the reporting requirements.

It is critical that cities obtain the Certificate before beginning UAS operations. It is expected that the FAA will release more rules and regulations by the end of the year. We will be following this as it develops.


Remember: Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next... More online resources and a new "Did You Know" video.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful,


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Fall Fire Workshops

The Bemidji class was held at the Sanford Center.
The instructor’s voice got louder as he quickly said, “Conditions change suddenly, and you see thick, black, heavy, angry, fast-moving smoke pushing all the way down to the floor, you can’t see anything, and the heat feels like knives going into your body! What is going on?” A voice from the back of the class shouts out: “Pre-flashover!” Dr. Richard Gasaway’s voice is getting louder as he quickly comes back with, “Yes! What do you do?” The class answers: “Get out!” Dr. Gasaway shouts, “Get out! Get out! Get out!”

The “flashover” that was about to occur is when all of that thick, black smoke explodes into fire and becomes fatal to firefighters. That type of smoke is enriched with hydrocarbons and is as explosive as gasoline.

The firefighters attending the class watched a video of other firefighters making an entry into a house that is on fire. They watched as the smoke changed, and the fire commander missed the change because he was on the front porch helping to advance the hose to the crew inside. Thirty-four seconds after the smoke changes, the house explodes into flames. In this class, no one asked what happened to the firefighters inside. They knew.

Dr. Gasaway with firefighters in St. Cloud.
The above class was one of the just-concluded fire workshops entitled Fireground Safety—10 Frequent Mistakes and 10 Best Practices. The workshops were held in Slayton, Morris, St. Cloud, Crookston, Bemidji, and Sandstone. Dr. Gasaway has studied more than 500 fire ground fatalities, and this class comes from his research and from his 30 years of experience in fire departments.

The ten mistakes he reviewed included: performing high-risk activities without proper staffing, the person in charge performing hands-on activities, failing to know when to be defensive, failure to do a 360-degree walk around before committing crews to an interior attack, shortcuts in training, and missed communications or misunderstood communications. On that last subject, Dr. Gasaway used his training in cognitive neuroscience to explain why a fire chief or firefighter at a fire may not hear a radio transmission: their brains and hearing are overloaded with input, and some of the messages are “lost.”

The final hour of the class targeted ten best practices that matched up with the ten mistakes—and these best practices don’t cost anything. This was simply about doing things differently.

One last observation: the class lasted four hours, beginning at 5:30 p.m.—and no one left any of the classes early. No one.


                                                 Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Drones—Coming to a Squad Car Near You

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The “New” Fire Memo

The old memos were good, but they
were a handful to keep organized.

For many years, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) has distributed “the packet” of fire department memos to fire chiefs, firefighters, and city officials who had questions. The packet contained 22 individual documents on over 50 pages in a plastic folder. While the information was very helpful, it was not organized.

These packets no longer exist. All of that information is now online and is consolidated into a revised memo entitled “Fire Department Management and Liability Issues.” In addition to the updated information, the new memo has links to additional information and references.

You can find the memo on the LMC website in the Resource Library at:

A few examples from this newly consolidated memo:
  • Chapter 2 is entitled “Managing City Fire Department Employees.” It is full of good human resources information on the topics of hiring, discipline, alcohol response policies, and code of conduct.
  • Chapter 4’s focus is on managing fire department finances. It covers charging for fire calls, contracting for service, compensating firefighters, and even fundraisers and donations.
  • There is also a chapter on safety. It includes a revised version of the memo “Trends in Firefighter Injuries”. It looks at the number, type, and location of firefighter injuries—as well as “Loss Control Recommendations” for fitness, economics, and training. There are chapters on fire department consolidations, NFPA standards, and managing fire relief associations as well.
It is all online, available when you want it, and will be updated as needed. 


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…A report from the fire workshops.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.