Technology aids Grand Strand firefighters

akelley@thesunnews.comApril 5, 2014 

— Firefighters along the Grand Strand are using technology to improve efficiency and hope it will help reduce operational expenses in the process.

Horry County Fire Rescue battalion chiefs recently began using GoPro cameras as additional training tools, said agency spokesman Brian VanAernem and the county and other municipalities are adding iPads for use on their fire engines.

VanAernem said a camera currently is hooked to the windshield near the rearview mirror of each of Horry County’s three battalion trucks..

VanAernem said the agency has used the cameras, which still are considered to be on a trial run, for about three weeks and found them helpful. It is used for training and is not mandatory, but is used a the discretion of the battalion chiefs to improve operations.

The video picks up the audio of firefighters speaking during the incident on the scanners inside the vehicles. VanAernem said one way the battalion chiefs have used them is to improve use of radio traffic by firefighters.

“It’s been very positive,” he said. “It reinforces things the chief officers are always talking about.”

VanAernem said firefighters always speak after incidents, typically at the station’s kitchen table, and critique the way the event was handled. With the cameras, he said it’s easy to show the firefighters what went well and what could have been improved.

Midway Fire Rescue also recently purchased a GoPro camera, said Chief Doug Eggiman. He said the department intends to use it for training, but is researching additional applications that work with the camera.

Jason Pope, deputy director of the S.C. Firefighters Association said he hasn’t come across GoPro cameras but has seen departments use other cameras similar to police dash-cameras. He said he also has seen firefighters use personal cameras for self evaluation.

In addition to the GoPro cameras, officials at area fire departments say iPads increasingly are being used to help firefighters on their mobs.

Horry County Fire Rescue has had iPads for about two months, and VanAernem said they have multiple uses and hopefully will lead to a reduction in operational expenses.

“The goal for the fire chief is to go paperless,” VanAernem said. “Things like patient waivers and smoke detector installations require paperwork that gets faxed a couple different places. A lot of this stuff is going to be completed with an app on the iPad now. It’s a huge cost savings by saving paper, ink and time.”

Pope said tablets are something he is seeing crop up in more departments across the state.

“It’s really catching on in pockets that can afford it,” he said. “I’ve been to counties from the upstate to Florence and we are seeing it just because they are so handy.”

Pope said iPads likely won’t replace computers entirely, but said their use among firefighters likely will increase.

Surfside Beach also will begin using iPads soon. Fire Chief Dan Cimini said Friday that the town has purchased three devices.

Cimini said it’s an exciting tool for the department.

“We’ll have all the information and maps on the iPads,” he said. “It’s one of those tools that is needed especially when we are running mutual aid, whether we’re going [elsewhere] or we are getting help. We will all have the same information and we’ll be able to plot our fire hydrants quickly. Everything will be easy to pull up.”

In Surfside Beach, there is an iPad for the two fire engines and one for the chief’s car.

Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue already uses iPads for fire inspections, said Fire Marshall Bruce Arnel.

“It’s proven to be very successful,” Arnel said. “Everything is done with e-mail so it’s a paperless process.”

Arnel said the department is in the process of adding iPads to its fire engines and is especially excited for the device’s portability. He said the iPads also will take up less space on the engines compared to the computers and may will require less maintenance and upkeep.

Capt. Michael Noreck, with Horry County Fire Rescue, said the iPads currently are mainly used for the mapping system, but also has information on hazardous materials and can be used to quickly plot evacuation zones in the event of a HAZMAT event like a gas leak.

He said the map application allows firefighters to quickly calculate the distance to the nearest fire hydrant to determine the length of the fire hose needed allowing the firefighters could know whether a second fire engine is needed before arriving to the scene.

The maps also help show the bigger picture for events like large brush fires.

“If we have a wildfire we can look at the map and get a general overview to know that there’s a house or some sort of structure that we need to look at protecting or evacuating,” Noreck said. “It will let us know if there’s a road or water behind the fire in case a water source is a necessity.”

Prior to the iPads the department used paper maps and computers that cost about $5,000 compared to the iPads $800 price tag, VanAernem said.

“It’s very cost effective and it’s very user friendly,” he said. “Before the apps [the information] is in books and we were calling guys. Now you’re taking all these books, about 10 of them, and bringing them into one source.”

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.

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