Jamaica Fire Brigade boosts use of tech

MONTEGO BAY, St James — The use of drones that help pinpoint the exact spot where a fire began and help firefighters plan how to strategically bring blazes under control are among the ways that the Jamaica Fire Brigade is using technology in its daily operations.

“We used drones in the last major fire on the landfill up by Riverton where we would have been able to plot the geographical area that is affected and, from the convenience of the office, we could monitor what was happening down there with our firefighting operations,” said Deputy Commissioner in charge of Fire and Rescue Operations Kevin Haughton.

He was speaking at the National Open Day for the Jamaica Fire Brigade that was held at the Montego Bay Fire Station in St James on Monday as part of Fire and Life Safety Awareness Week activities.

This year’s activities are being held under the theme “Being fire safe in a digital society”.

The drones have thermal imaging technology that gives fire fighters a better chance of identifying the seat of fires through the use of infra-red waves. Infra-red is also useful in search and rescue exercises.

“One of the things that we use the drones to assist us with during bush fires is to pinpoint the GPS location so that the JDF helicopters could have done the drops in a more strategic way,” Haughton explained.

He said the devices also help in the aftermath of major fires as well.

“We use them for aerial surveillance to assist with fire investigations,” the senior firefighter added.

He said efforts are being made to optimise the use of these and other high-tech equipment even though there are sometimes challenges in the initial stages.

“One of the things we are trying to achieve now is to incorporate fibre in all our fire stations and this is a thrust in order to keep up with the technological advances,” Haughton said.

“We are also looking to incorporate voice over internet protocol (VoIP) between stations so that we can share data, reduce our telephone calls in terms of office to office,” he stated.

There are also reports that the organisation is now looking to digitalise data so that it is easier to access across the various sections and departments.

Hydrant maintenance is also a big component of the work as these are essential to fire fighting as they provide access to water — the most often used method of extinguishing fires.

According to Haughton, other purchases are in the pipeline.

“We are looking, as well, at buying state-of-the-art equipment. We have Trimbles, which are critically a part of our hydrant maintenance programme where we use GPS to pinpoint all the locations of our hydrants as well as the status of each hydrant,” he stated.