Safety and Security through a Second Set of Eyes

Fire departments worldwide are rapidly embracing the use of video on their fire apparatus to increase safety and security. Video and recording technology is quickly evolving from basic backup cameras to multicamera video systems that provide operators greater visibility and high-tech recording and that deliver much more than the video. Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) member companies are seeing increased interest in camera systems on new apparatus. Let’s take a look at some of these products, their features, their benefits, and what a second set of eyes can do for your safety initiatives.

Driver Visibility and Awareness

The most common use of cameras is to provide the apparatus driver with improved visibility. Relatively inexpensive camera systems may increase safety around the apparatus, avoiding costly accidents. Proximity sensors are also becoming more popular to provide additional awareness to the driver when the apparatus is nearing an object. Common systems currently being used on apparatus in the emergency market include:

  • Rear-View Camera Systems: Similar to those used on passenger cars, providing in-cab views and activated by reverse mode.
  • Blind-Spot Cameras: Typically used with a rear-view camera. Second and third cameras mounted on each side of the apparatus are activated by the turn signal to provide views accordingly.
  • Forward-Facing Camera: Usually used with rear- and blind-spot cameras, making it a four camera system. A forward-facing camera, placed either on the front bumper or top of brow, provides the driver with greater visibility when positioning the apparatus.
  • 360-Degree “Birds-Eye View” Camera Systems: Typically four wide-angle (180-degree) cameras mounted on each side of the apparatus. A control module “stitches” images to create one simple view around the apparatus. The resulting image is a 360-degree bird’s-eye view that appears like it is coming from above the apparatus, virtually eliminating blind spots. These systems typically use a split-screen monitor: one side displaying the 360-degree view and the other toggling between the individual camera views. The view selection can be made automatically for the driver based on transmission shift selection (drive or reverse) and turn signal indication (left or right).

Proximity Sensors

A proximity sensor will detect the presence of an object or obstacle. The majority of proximity sensors in use today incorporate ultrasonic technology because of its economical price and good close-range accuracy. Placement can be anywhere on fire apparatus and, in many cases, integrated into a camera system, providing on-monitor sensor location and distance to object.

In addition to hard-wired systems installed by OEMs usually on new apparatus, most are also available in wireless configurations. With no wires to run, wireless systems can greatly reduce retrofit or upgrade installation costs.

Fire Ground Visibility

Video systems may also be used to provide additional visibility and safety during fireground operations. Two common examples are:

  • Pump Panel Displays: Video systems with an external display monitor mounted on the pump panel offer the operator greater views surrounding the apparatus—especially on side- or rear-mounted pump panels. In many cases, the system may be dual-purpose, using any of the above for driver visibility and a second monitor on the pump panel.
  • Aerial Cameras: Cameras are often placed on the end of an aerial to aid in positioning. A wireless system may be ideal as it eliminates hard wiring.

Key Camera Attributes

With camera systems it is important to understand the following key camera attributes.

  • Ingress Protection (IP) Rating: Weatherproof capability of the product in terms of dust and water intrusion is indicated numerically, for example IP 65. The first number represents dust resistance and the second water, with higher numbers being better.
  • Infrared (IR): Infrared camera technology provides low-light visibility, which may be desired depending on the application. Infrared capability is rated in LUX and expressed numerically. When making comparisons, the lower LUX number is better, indicating the camera can capture images with less light.
  • Resolution: With most viewing monitors being 10 inches or smaller, resolution is less of a concern unless being paired with a DVR for recording. Typically a 480-line or better resolution will be sufficient. For recording applications, both DVR and cameras should support high-definition capabilities to deliver quality video.

Liability Protection

Liability exposure, insurance rates, equipment theft, and protecting personnel from claims is a growing concern. To mitigate these risks, fire departments are increasingly using video and DVR technology to record events. Recorders range a great deal in functionality and features with some key items highlighted include:

  • Camera and DVR Resolution: The camera and DVR should be compatible in resolution, and both should be capable of high definition. Higher resolution offers greater ability to zoom in for details such as license plate capture and person recognition.
  • Frames Per Second (FPS): Higher FPS will provide a more fluid video image, which is important when used as evidence. Frame-by-frame viewing will have a shorter timespan between frames. Typical FPS range for DVR systems would be 5 to 30.
  • Memory Type: DVR memory ranges from simple SD cards with fewer megabytes of storage to internal hard drives with more than a terabyte. The SD or other solid state hard drives offer greater shock resistance. Most DVRs work by rewriting old data once the memory is full. Be mindful of the rewrite lifespan of the SD memory cards as less expensive versions may have very limited lifespans in DVR applications. If using an internal hard drive, ensure the DVR has a high G-Force rating as vibration can cause failure if not properly designed for industrial applications.
  • Memory Size: The size memory you require depends on the number of camera channels you are recording, resolution, frames per second, and timespan before rewrite. Consult your product supplier to determine the memory size required.
  • Real-Time Clock: Many DVRs feature a real-time clock, allowing DVR content search by date and time and providing evidence of apparatus location at specific dates and times.
  • GPS: Many DVR systems have built-in or optional GPS, providing location, speed, and direction of travel along with video recording. This may be critical data for liability protection, and it also aids in management as you can also search by location.
  • Inertia Sensor (G-Force Sensor): This is another option or built-in feature that provides speed and inertia recording, which is useful collision data—in particular when certain equipment, such as patient cots on ambulances, has replacement stipulations tied to G-Force events.
  • WiFi: Basic DVR systems require physically removing memory to review DVR contents. WiFi capability is a powerful tool, especially for those with larger fleets equipped with DVRs. WiFi-equipped systems are coupled to data acquisition software allowing the DVR content to be auto-searched when in range; without need to remove hard-drives and manually search for content. For example, if an incident occurs, the software can automatically pull data from all apparatus on scene at that specific location and day. Other queues may be set meeting specific criteria such as location, speed, and inertia limits that automatically queues the data for review.
  • Recording Format: DVRs may record in different video formats such as .AVI, which can be edited, or proprietary encrypted. Advantages of an editable format is that many common software packages can be used for viewing, however security is low and odds of unapproved use increases. Proprietary formats require vendor-supplied software to view and protect video viewing from others without permission. Noneditable proprietary formats are also stronger in court as video tampering risk is low.
  • Live Streaming: Live streaming video may be desired to provide command real-time views at a fire scene. Many DVRs use cellular data systems and viewing software to provide live streaming. Most systems are “cloud-based,” providing a means to view with any Web-browser-capable device. Streaming is encrypted and password-protected for security purposes.

Leveraging this exciting and powerful technology will enhance safety and reduce liability concerns. Cameras, recording, and video products are dynamic and customizable. Reach out to your FAMA apparatus or video system supplier to identify products to meet your application requirements.

FAMA is committed to the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.