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Monday, November 24, 2014

Empty Boots and Quiet Sirens: Some Hard Numbers

There are fewer volunteer and paid-on-call firefighters in Minnesota. A recent study by graduate students at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute put some hard numbers to what is happening. The study is entitled “Empty Boots and Quiet Sirens.” It reminded me of the phrase, “What if you had a fire and nobody came?” The retention and recruitment of firefighters in Minnesota is a developing issue.

The study looks at the number of firefighters in the state between 2008-2012 and reports that 56% of Minnesota’s counties had a reduction in the number of volunteer and paid-on-call firefighters. Ninety percent of those counties were outside of the metro area, and 77% of the fire relief associations that serve communities with populations of less than 4,000 reported a 10% reduction in their number of firefighters.

The report contains three major findings:
  1. Retention and recruitment of firefighters is a local problem requiring local solutions and resources.
  2. Rural areas are more likely to experience difficulty recruiting and retaining firefighters.
  3. Additional information is needed at the state level in order to provide the most impactful support to local communities.
Some of the factors coming together that are contributing to the problem are the volunteers’ desire for a greater work-life balance, the increased training requirements, department leadership challenges, and the state’s shifting demographics. One of the subheadings of the study sums it up nicely: “A valuable service in danger.”

The full study—including a comparison with neighboring states—can be found online here:

                                          Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Meet the New Loss Control Team Members

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Helpful Training Links

A New “Did You Know” Video—Domestic Violence
The California POST Board has released a new video as part of their “Did You Know” training series. The video, entitled “Domestic Violence,” looks at the contributing factors that are below the surface on many of these calls and that can make an officer’s investigation difficult. The training can either be viewed online or downloaded. Here is the link to “Domestic Violence” and to the rest of the Cal-POST online video resources:

“Modern Fire Dynamics”: The New ALIVE Fire Training
“They were doing what we had trained them to do.” Those are the words of a fire commander that narrates part of the new ALIVE online training for firefighters, entitled “Modern Fire Dynamics.” He was describing how using traditional tactical decisions while fighting a house fire almost killed seven of his firefighters. Actual case histories are backed up with the new, ongoing research from New York University as to how structures actually burn and how the petroleum-based contents of our structures further makes the traditional tactics dangerous. The online technology flows smoothly as the student answers questions and learns the science, including the science of their turnout gear and when it will fail. This training will save lives, and it is free. Here’s the link:

LMC Memo on Computer Networks and Loss Control
The League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) has a new memo that was just posted online. This all-encompassing memo covers the risks associated with storing and sharing city data on computers. It also addresses how cities can protect themselves from data breaches, virus contamination, hacker attacks, and computer misuse by employees. It covers the issues presented by social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. And there are links to a model employee computer policy. Here’s the memo:


                                           Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Empty Boots and Quiet Sirens. The University Of Minnesota Humphrey School Of Public Affairs puts statistics to the decreasing number of volunteer and paid on call firefighters in our state.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, November 5, 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 entitled "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 webcast from the University of North Dakota Department of Aerospace Center for Unmanned Aviation Systems (UAS). The webcast is entitled "Small UAS and Law Enforcement."

In the webcast, Assistant Professor Al Frazier predicts that police officers with UAS may soon be used similarly 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 and 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 assisting in special event planning and 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,