Dirk Aschenbrenner (51) is head of the Dortmund professional fire brigade and at the same time coordinator of the German Robot Rescue Center in Dortmund.
I don’t want to put it that way. There have always been and are very innovative minds in the fire services who create great innovations with a lot of passion and ingenuity. This tradition goes back to Conrad Dietrich Magirus or Carl Metz, who established the construction of fire trucks and turntable ladders in Ulm and Karlsruhe.
Innovation is not an end in itself. It’s not enough to just invent great technology. We have to bring meaningful things to operational readiness. And that takes longer for us than in a normal industrial company, because the lives of our emergency services also depend on it. When I send my people into the fire as chiefs of operations, I prefer to do it with technology that I know from years of experience that can be trusted. And not with any novelties, of which it is not clear what can be expected of them.
There are many reasons for the delays in digital radio. And the fire brigades, which are municipal facilities, are at the very back of the chain when it comes to setting up digital radio, which was operated by the federal and state governments. So it is not my business to comment on the difficulties that have existed and are still there. Nevertheless, it is of course fundamentally true: fire departments are very conservative institutions. Certainly also because of the special security requirements. But also because the people who work for us don’t always come from the most innovative professional fields. To use a historical comparison: When the cars conquered the streets, the fire brigades were dominated by experts in horse-drawn carriages and steam sprayers. And today we have more automotive electronics specialists and no female drone pilots in our ranks.
Yes, we already have various aircraft in use here in Dortmund with which we can explore deployment sites from the air. Drones are a good example of how we integrate innovative technology from everyday civil life into our work. But also for why it is sometimes so difficult. For a long time, for example, we were not even allowed to fly over deployment sites with the devices. Only the amendment to aviation law created an exception for us. And that doesn’t go as far as we’d like.
We are currently procuring another, new type of drone that would be able to autonomously fly ahead of the fire engines in the event of an alarm directly from the main guard and explore deployment sites from the air in advance. A plane like this only takes a few minutes for the 10 to 15 kilometers to the city limits. That would give us a clear information advantage and help the officers in the control center to assess the situation faster and better and, if necessary, to alert the right additional forces earlier.