Lost art of the engineer: How technology changes the nature of the job

Tasks related to navigation, pump presets and even packing hose are handled differently due to tech advances and expanded compartments


Technology has changed the fire engineer role; would your engineer be able to navigate to an address in your first-due without the help of mapping or navigation software? Take the FireRescue1 poll and see how others are responding. 

There’s an old saying, “Firefighters hate two things – the way things are and change.”

Technology has brought about a lot of change over the past several years. No one can argue that technology has made many parts of life and our profession easier and more efficient.

With all the new technology, there seems to be a decrease in the “old ways” of the engineer (chauffeur, driver/operator or whatever you call the position). But sometimes the “old way” of doing things isn’t so bad. (Photo/Chris Schroeder)
With all the new technology, there seems to be a decrease in the “old ways” of the engineer (chauffeur, driver/operator or whatever you call the position). But sometimes the “old way” of doing things isn’t so bad. (Photo/Chris Schroeder) (Photo/Chris Schroeder)

With all the new technology, there seems to be a decrease in the “old ways” of the engineer (chauffeur, driver/operator or whatever you call the position). But sometimes the “old way” of doing things isn’t so bad.

Technology has streamlined the process of pumping lines and managing pressure or navigating to calls. And new apparatus designs hide the hose in compartments or behind netting, causing appearance to be less important.

But what happens when technology fails? The engineers who have foregone the “old way” of doing things find themselves in trouble when the mapping system fails or “mode preset” doesn’t cut it on the pump panel. 

Navigation needs

First and foremost, the primary responsibility of the chauffeur is to quickly, safely and efficiently navigate the apparatus to the scene of the emergency. Mobile data terminals (MDTs) have advanced mapping software that provides directions to the address and nearest hydrant locations. Some programs are even able to send the address directly to crewmembers’ phones and use live-mapping that adjusts the route based on reported traffic conditions.

These are all fantastic things in a business where seconds truly do matter. However, over-reliance on technology can leave firefighters spinning when it fails. Those firefighters who have been around for decades or those who embrace the way of the old days have their territories memorized. Some even have their district memorized down to being able to cite the color of the house at a given address. Intimate details of the territory are simply programmed into their brains – the types of details that mapping software cannot know. 

Pump presets

Pump operation is another area of technology impact for engineers. “Mode - preset” seems to be the go-to operation of some departments. While technology has made it possible for “mode - preset” to be set up for the most common hose deployment and flow, it takes away the art of calculating flows and lines on the fly.

Electronic governors eliminate the need to manage pressure surges. Mostly gone are the days of Total Pressure Management (TPM) calculations. For operator safety, the electronic governors are certainly a vast improvement, but what if they fail? Are new engineers being taught pressure management as a contingency? 

[Read next: How to calculate and overcome friction loss and Water supply basics: Hydraulics for pump operators]

Pride for the job

The last area where there has been a decline in the “old way” is a sense of pride. With hose covers and crosslays in compartments, there seems to be a decrease in pride in how the hose is packed. “No one sees it anyways!” is common statement. While it cannot be argued that any hose will come off the engine, the old adage “lays pretty, pulls pretty'' does have tremendous merit.

Pride in how hose is packed, the apparatus being clean, the windows bug free and the chrome shined is becoming less common. Yes, the apparatus gets washed, but do they really get washed? Do they get the extra TLC and pride that was once an expectation?

Prepare for technology troubles

Overall, technology is a great thing. It provides effectiveness and efficiency for many processes. Let's just not completely disregard all the ways of the past. Maintain pride in the job, knowledge of territory, and the ability to troubleshoot problems when the technology fails. Continue moving forward, but with the lessons of those before us in mind, knowing technology can and will fail us. The best we can do is be prepared for when it does.

Editor’s note: How do you think fire service leaders can help instill a sense of pride in the engineer position? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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