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
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
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.