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From hose carts to thermal imagers

Ryan Carter

A Burbank Fire Department battalion chief’s Chevy Suburban carries

a cache of VCR monitors, fax machine and screens for remote viewing

of thermal-imaging cameras. It’s a long way from 1909. Back then, a


group of volunteer firefighters were summoned by a lone fire bell

atop a tower to pull a hose cart to a downtown fire.

“When you talk about technology, it’s come a long way,” said Gary

Sutliff, a retired Burbank battalion chief who worked for the city


from 1963 to 1994.

Advances in everything from rope fabric to computers have

transformed the once all-volunteer department.

Equipment is one significant change, with breathing apparatus

coming with air- pressure indicators and computer-aided 911

dispatching that connects Burbank with cities around the county.

Turnouts -- the suspendered pants, boots and jacket outfits worn

to fires -- are fire resistant and reflective, and thermal lining


protects the body. Twenty years ago, glove and jacket designs left

firefighters exposed, Fire Capt. Ron Bell said.

On-board computers and data-retrieval systems have made

hazardous-material analysis a matter of pushing buttons.

“Ten years ago, with an on-board library, you had three guys

looking at a book,” Fire Capt. Lew Stone said.

Battalion Chief Norm Stockton said technology has expanded with

the changing role of the department.


For example, out of the department’s 8,000 calls a year, 75% are

for paramedic care. In the mid-1970s, when the paramedic program

started here, that number was about 25%, Stockton said.

Advancements in drug treatment, communications and medical

instruments have allowed Burbank paramedics to go from receiving a

physician’s directions for treatment to actually treating victims at

the scene with standardized procedures. In the early 1990s, Burbank

was among the first in the county to usher in the new field protocols

-- standard field- treatment procedures -- for paramedics.

Fire prevention, made up of public education and code enforcement,

has also fused with fire-prevention technology, Fire Marshal Dave

Starr said.

Those who have seen the evolution agreed.

“Thirty years ago, we had fires every day,” Sutliff said. “But

with fire prevention and ordinances they’ve almost outlawed fires.

Smoke alarms and fire-sprinkler systems have brought the workload of

firefighters way down, from manual hands-on to a little more of a

scientific era.”

Paradoxically, it’s the department’s fire records- management

system that is antiquated. The hope is the purchase of software next

year combined with mobile computers will allow firefighters to access

vital building specifications more efficiently than accessing

hard-copy index files.