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Why modern fire truck fleets need cameras

A firetruck turns a corner on a winter day.

Vehicle cameras can provide situational awareness, liability protection and improved training materials

Firefighters should take a cue from their colleagues in blue: Vehicle cameras are the future. These devices are invaluable to emergency responders as records of the truth, but that’s not their only benefit for firefighters. They’re also a tool squads can use to evaluate performance, boost safety compliance, protect against liability and improve situational awareness in real time.

By far, the most common form of vehicle camera is the dashboard camera. These tend to capture the scene directly ahead of the vehicle and, occasionally, inside the driver’s cab. That’s useful, but the front of a fire apparatus is just a fraction of its environment.Fire Departments benefit from mounting their cameras all around their vehicles. Cameras on the sides and rear can unlock worlds of value. Here’s how.

Benefits of vehicle cameras

Greater transparency

Despite their name, firefighters provide fire rescue and response at less than 5% of incident runs. Far more common are emergency medical services, motor vehicle collisions and other crises. Tensions in these situations can often run high, and citizens may not always agree with firefighter decision-making. That can lead to phone videos with negative commentary that hit the internet and erode public trust in the fire department. Worse, it can escalate to violent assault.

The simple presence of a camera can dissuade civilians from acting in an unsafe manner. If that camera is attached to the apparatus, with a clear view of the entire incident, it can also present an objective view of the action. During a review of an incident, this makes it easy to maintain transparency, eliminate ambiguity and protect the truth.

Real-time situational awareness

When firefighters arrive at an emergency, they’re immediately bombarded with conflicting priorities. There may be injured civilians who need treatment, people trapped inside burning buildings or any number of other threats and considerations. Receiving all that info, synthesizing it instantly and executing the perfect response is a tall order at the best of times. Having a second set of eyes on the action can help develop deeper situational awareness, manage competing priorities and deploy additional resources as needed.

Vehicle cameras with live-streaming capabilities are a great way to build out that second set of eyes. Side-facing, wide-angle cameras on a fire truck can allow dispatchers, incident command and leadership back at the station to take in the state of the crisis and provide support from a distance.

Using solutions such as the Axon Fleet 3, incident command can observe several video and audio feeds, maps that update in real-time and instant alerts to provide tactical support. They also benefit from being removed from the action, as they’re less likely to be overwhelmed by all the sensory data coming in. This keeps their heads clear so they can orchestrate an appropriate emergency response, taking some of the decision-making load off of first responders so they can focus on executing.

Improved training materials

Training firefighters is high-stakes work. Giving rookie firefighters real-world models to follow makes it that much more likely their training will stick with them when emergencies start turning up the heat. With vehicle cameras, departments can leverage their existing firefighters to provide that training model. A camera in the crew cab, for example, can capture footage of actual firefighters performing equipment checks en route. That can instill smart preparation habits in recruits. When an apparatus pulls up alongside an emergency scene, a side-facing camera can continue the lesson by demonstrating how professional firefighters approach various emergencies.

But the training potential doesn’t end with recruits. Firefighters looking to improve their own behavior and results can watch footage from their deployments with a self-critical eye. They can identify their strengths and determine which skills need work, guiding them toward peak performance. If a trainer runs these reviews with the whole team, it can spread the insight department-wide. That helps build a culture of continuous feedback and improvement.

Liability mitigation

Civilians are supposed to pull their cars to the side when they hear a firetruck’s siren, but they don’t always do it. That’s part of why there are roughly 30,000 motor vehicle crashes involving firetrucks each year. Each one brings with it a slew of consequences, not least of which is cost. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) calculates that a non-fatal crash can cost up to $655,000, while fatal crashes spike up to $11.2 million. That’s before considering repairs to the fire apparatus (which can cross the million-dollar mark alone), medical care and time off for injured firefighters. If the civilian involved in the collision decides to file a legal claim, costs can climb even higher.

Vehicle cameras may not be able to prevent collisions, but they can help fire departments protect themselves against undue costs. When police officers use vehicle cameras, citizens become less likely to file frivolous complaints. Firefighters who integrate vehicle cameras have a good chance to reap those same benefits. And if citizens decide to go ahead with a claim regardless, cameras can provide an objective record of the incident and help exonerate the firefighter of wrongdoing. That can mean significant savings for the department.

How Axon can support your fleet

As large as they are, fire apparatuses can call for several cameras to achieve complete coverage of the vehicle and its surroundings. That’s no problem for Axon Fleet 3, which can handle up to five simultaneous video and audio feeds for maximum situational awareness. Fleet 3’s panoramic view captures a wide field of view in crisp 4K video. That ensures all the action is recorded for incident review, training and liability protection. The system can even pair with body-worn cameras for real-time info on firefighter status. Curious to learn how Fleet 3 can benefit your department? Get in touch today.