What is Innovation in the Fire Service?

Blog Post created by laurenbackstrom Employee on May 7, 2012

IStock_blog post may 2012
What does it mean to be an innovative organization? To be an innovator, do you need to have a certain product or follow a certain way of doing things? How much does innovation truly matter? And how do you know if you are doing it right?

As I walked the exhibit floor at the FDIC conference in Indy last month, these questions kept going through my head.

The Fire Department Instructors Conference attracts attendees from across the U.S. and around the world, and this year, 30,000 people attended. The crowds were huge, and the fire engines on the floor were massive. As someone new to the industry, but with years of software experience, I opted to research the fire service’s software technology. This gave me the focus I needed to understand a very different customer group than what I was used to.

What wasn’t new: as with any industry, the level of technology adoption varies greatly by department and jurisdiction. It’s not a secret that lack of funding continues to impact the ability of the fire service to take advantage of new advances. Although I knew this walking into the conference, I was still surprised at the breadth and depth of technologies being showcased.

I took a step back and took off my technology hat to help me better understand this market. Once I did, my perspective on what it means to be innovative evolved. Innovation isn’t about new products. Innovation involves making processes, technology, or equipment better, to improve productivity, efficacy, and efficiency.

There’s the fire educator that launches web-based sessions to reach a larger audience; the Fire Chief that adopts a new service for firefighters to indicate scene response; and the public educator that signs up for Sparky’s Wish List to help fund Fire Protection Week. Each of these professionals made a decision to improve how they operate. And it’s this desire to improve that’s at the very heart of what innovation aims to achieve.

Innovation isn’t the end goal. It is a process that takes us from “what we always do” to “what we should have always done.” It doesn’t matter where you start, because what you’re really after is progress.

-Lisa Frank