PARKER, Colo. — Body cameras are giving firefighters a new training tool to help put out fires more efficiently.
South Metro Fire Rescue is one of the first fire departments in Colorado and the country to use cameras during every call.
“We have helmet cameras and then cameras that are mounted on a chest harness that firefighters wear,” spokesman Eric Hurst said.
While the videos are cool to watch, they actually serve a pretty important purpose. SMFR uses them to enhance training, similar to athletes watching game tape.
“Firefighters are very task saturated. They have a lot going on,” Hurst said. “So it’s easier for us to go back and watch exactly what happened versus trying to ask multiple people what they may have seen during the heat of the moment.”
SMFR always has at least one camera at every call. The small devices don’t really add any extra gear weight and they don’t get in the way. But they are changing the way SMFR battles the flames.
“We can find very simple things that people can improve on or we can look at the broader scene of the incident and come up with better ways that we can operate next time,” Hurst said.
For example, at a house fire over the winter, a newer firefighter decided to put a smaller diameter hose line on top of a larger one. The change ended up making it easier for the team to extinguish the flames. No one noticed he made the change until they went back to review the tape.
“That’s just a small detail that no one would have noticed, maybe not even that firefighter. But going back and seeing it we can go back and say we should do that every time,” Hurst said.
Body cameras do come with baggage. Departments that use them have to be cautious of privacy, crime scene evidence and victims. Hurst said most fire departments do not support the use of body cameras because of the liabilities they carry.
“A lot of it is the fear that the wrong kind of images are going to get in the hands of people who shouldn’t see them,” he said.
SMFR believes if the cameras can help save more lives and improve firefighting techniques, then they are worth it.
“We’re OK with showing our people and sharing whatever we can publicly as well so everybody understands the difficult nature of this job and the challenges that our firefighters are up against,” Hurst said.