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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Jerry Whitaker -- Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340
Jerry.Whitaker@natick.army.mil

Date: October 6, 2004
No: 04-39

Firefighting experts discuss changes in requirements

NATICK, Mass. -- Typically, firefighters no longer just battle a flame-engulfed structure while heroically rescuing victims from the inferno-they're increasingly entering multi-hazard or violent environments.

To keep pace with changes in the field, 11 firefighting experts from across the country assessed firefighting requirements during a workshop panel Sept. 1-2 in Arlington, Va., and reviewed the results of a two-phase study funded by the NASA Ames Research Center and U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center (NSC) through their National Protection Center-partnered program.

Supported by U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison and U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, the goal was to gain a better understanding of collective federal efforts to support fire service professionals who are spending a declining percentage of their time fighting fires. They also looked into defining operational requirements that impact the ongoing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lead in research, development and engineering projects or multi-agency technology transfer efforts.

"It is not our job to address the firefighter culture but to be responsive to the demands for technology transfer," said John Hines, NASA Ames Research Center manager of advanced molecular technology and National Protection Center co-founder. "That includes our expertise in human performance in space and optimizing that performance as well as 'hardware,' regardless of the culture and whether cultural change will occur or not."

The Natick Soldier Center has been focused on treating Soldiers as a whole, what is called a "human-centric, system of systems" approach to enhance mission capabilities, and improve their safety and quality of life regardless of the mission. Discussions included assessing how a system of systems approach can apply to Homeland Security Operations.

By treating the human as a whole, researchers are able to identify vulnerabilities in the interfaces between this human system and other sub-systems, including other supporting platforms, said National Protection Center Director Rita González.

"At the end of the day, it will still be a human being carrying that victim or conducting triage," she said. "The approach, a cornerstone of Army Transformation, is a significant paradigm shift for the fire culture."

In pre-conference discussions, National Protection Center team members discussed the importance of measuring the current state of technology to determine if deficiencies are really in the lack of technology or understanding of the strengths and limitations of technology.

Panelists looked at past studies to identify trends in developing firefighter requirements. They highlighted how terrorist threats are emphasized and advanced technology is heralded as the ultimate solution to many of the challenges.

"It is as important to understand the impact of current equipment on the user and how the equipment is used as addressing the need for technology," said Philip Brandler, director of the NSC. "We have learned that oftentimes technology does not provide the solution to many of the battlefield challenges. Doctrine and training are just as critical."

"We want to better understand how technology will be used so we can be responsive when the requests for technology or expertise come in," González added.

One major assumption is that firefighters spend most of their day fighting fires or tending to hazardous materials environments, when in reality, medical emergencies comprise the majority of fire service responses.

The main threat on medical emergencies and accidents is violence from patients, angry bystanders or terrorized victims. Panelists agreed that studies focused on the "Sept. 11" firefighters in their traditional gear and not enough attention on the other facets of the firefighting profession or on their emergency medical mission.

Panelists were joined by a group of observers from DHS Office for Domestic Preparedness, DHS Office of Science and Technology, Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, Navy Clothing and Textile Facility and Office of the Secretary of Defense.

For more information about the Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at: www.natick.army.mil


This page last updated on 23 January 2004.