By my assessment firefighters are one of the most innovative groups of people you will find, the very nature of their job means that they must solve problems in inhospitable circumstances on a daily basis. Just consider the thought processes that goes into extracting a person from a car accident, doing it in a timely manner but without causing more injury to the patient. Or in a fire situation, figuring out how to rescue occupants, while containing the fire and protecting fire crews.
The list of appliances and tools that firefighters have these days is large but how often are these tools used in a way that manufacturers have not envisaged because it was the solution to a problem a firefighter was confronting.
Often, I have seen firefighter return from an incident and say if I only had xxxx we could have achieved our objectives much more easily and in a safer way than we did at that incident.
There appears to be an ad hoc approach to collecting this information and often good ideas fall through the cracks for lack of a systematic collection process. I have seen firefighters go to the extent of contacting manufacturers to discuss innovations that would improve the operation of their products. Fortunately, most manufacturers listen to their customers in this industry and often take on board the suggestions. This however depends on the tenacity of a dedicated individual. Some ideas are taken on by the agency and developed as an inhouse project, a prime example of this is the use of drones in firefighting.
Governments and the private sector around the world are setting up incubators to encourage the development of ideas and provide a network of support in the start-up phase of a business. I don’t think the fire and emergency services sector is big enough for one country to go it alone, however, if you bring together countries in our region to concentrate on innovation and idea development in the emergency sector, there is a good chance that the private sector would become involved, support and benefit from this type of initiative.
One of the problems to overcome is nationalism and/or agency jealousy, we need to work as one, so we can get economies of scale, no matter where the start-up hub is, everyone will want it in their country. A number of countries have proven experience in this area, Indonesia, Malaysia, China (Hong Kong), Australia and New Zealand to name a few. So, let’s start with an innovative regional solution, we live in a world of rapid communication, all of us are in a similar time zone. Why not start by creating a virtual collaboration hub with a small number of projects that would have a business plan sponsored by their agency. The business plan would be broad and include the identification of the skills needed for product development and testing. Agencies in the initial stages may need to release the initiator and other specialists to work on the project.
Long term managing of the collaboration hub could not be seen to interfere with the running of an agency, they would need to be agency autonomous and would require funding independent of agencies. To this end a small start up grant from agencies that wanted to be involved would allow a small independent board to sell the concept to industry sponsors, hopefully leading to a fully funded organisation.
In this short editorial I have only been able to outline a concept for capturing innovation within the fire service, what to do with it once captured and how to get economies of scale across a number of countries that already use this concept on a larger more robust scale.
I must emphasize that this isn’t about managing projects but about giving entrepreneurs the skills, resources and networks to make an idea work or fail based on the commercial reality of the idea.
If you think this is worth pursuing, drop me a line and let’s get something underway. There are many industry partners that could lever of the ideas of those firefighters in the field that use their equipment in practice.
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