Advances in Drone Technology
“Drones give you a complete picture of the scene while keeping humans out of harm’s way.” Using drones for industrial fires, where firefighters may encounter wickedly hot blazes, explosion risks, toxic fumes and hazardous chemicals, is increasing.Drones deliver aerial imagery that enhances situational awareness. New low-cost, thermal imagery solutions on drones improve visibility in difficult conditions. The technology helps drones “see” through smoke to deliver key information to firefighters. Incident commanders can receive real-time video, overlaid area topography and maps to gain insight that enhances the firefighting mission. When drones fly overhead, the technology can pinpoint hidden fire in roofs and walls to better protect firefighters. Should humans remain in the building, this technology also can pin down their whereabouts.
Taking on Thermal Imagers
“Just as every firefighter has a flashlight and a radio, every firefighter will soon have a thermal imaging camera.” Personal thermal imagers will change how brigades fight industrial fires. Their uses include:
- Primary Searches : To scan for people and pets and locate the source of the fire.
- Self-Rescue : An additional lifeline to help firefighters find their way out of low visibility. They can locate windows, cooler regions, and hose lines for self-rescue.
- Downed Firefighter Situations : Firefighters can respond to mayday calls and locate fellow members in smoke-filled environments.
- Alarms, Smells, and Smoke: Teams can identify the source of hidden problems. The unit can help identify hotspots, faulty wiring, shorts, and more.
- Hazmat: Hazmat teams can investigate and identify hazardous material levels in tanks and pressure vessels and investigate situations from a safe distance.
- Overhaul: Using thermal imagers increases the number of eyes searching for hot spots so teams can leave the scene confident that the fire is out.
- Non-Fire Search and Rescue: Help find missing people in the dark.
- Training: Teach firefighters about fire dynamics.
- Situational Awareness: The tool helps firefighters keep visual contact with other members in low visibility situations to improve situational awareness and efficiency.
The internet of things (IOT) has ushered in useful features for business and personal use. Now the IOT promises to wirelessly connect firefighting tools to enhance safety and staff.IOT can be relied upon to engineer an all-in-one safety solution ecosystem of products to help firefighters view a situation in real-time while staying connected to each other. The connected firefighter platform comprises:
- LUNAR : A handheld search-and-rescue device using thermal imaging technology to identify edges, people, doors, windows and other venting sources. It also includes a motion detector that sounds an alarm and broadcasts a distress signal to nearby personnel if a firefighter becomes incapacitated.
- FireGrid : An integrated system that connects all LUNAR devices as soon as they turn on to provide real-time accountability of firefighters’ status and location, whether or not they wear breathing apparatus. It feeds the collected data to on-scene commanders and remote personnel, such as a dispatch center or fire station.
- MSA Hub :A device creating a wireless gateway using its own hotspot by tapping into cellular technology. If cell signals are unavailable or severed, it creates its own cloud-based hotspot to communicate with all devices within range.
Previously, data about individual firefighters only became available when they connected to a SCBA that relayed their estimated air pressure, battery life and time remaining. In contrast, LUNAR uses advanced technology to relay that information and other data to assist a firefighter carrying the handheld device.
Even when not connected to SCBA, LUNAR detects a downed firefighter and broadcasts distance and directional information to other personnel who can use the device’s thermal imaging feature to rescue that person in restricted visibility.
Equipped with firefighting assisting search technology (FAST), LUNAR constantly broadcasts real-time information about a firefighter’s location and status. For example, if a firefighter has not moved in 30 seconds, LUNAR’s motion detection sensor recognizes a problem, broadcasts a distress signal and emits an audible alarm.
Innovations in PPE
Many firefighters die in the line of duty during fire emergency. Though the reasons for death vary, the No. 1 cause remains consistent year over year. Overexertion, stress, and medical issues contribute to most firefighter deaths.
Other factors leading to death include the hazards of the job: heat and smoke inhalation, explosions, falling objects, structural collapse, falls and electrocution.
Smart personal protective equipment (PPE) aims to reduce firefighter deaths by sending critical lifesaving information to incident commanders.
Companies pattern smart PPE after smart phones, smart watches and Fit Bit-style devices, which already deliver powerful insights about health and performance. These devices typically include a myriad of Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technology, such as gyroscopes, GPS, accelerometers, barometric pressure readers, and heart rate monitors. Each provides valuable insights about the user.
- Gyroscope data can share when the wearer falls or hits the floor, prompting an inquiry into their condition.
- GPS accurately shows the user’s location. If used in smart PPE, commanders could see where firefighters are to direct backup or emergency assistance.
- Accelerometersprovide clues about the wearer’s speed. Should it change rapidly, commanders can investigate why.
- Barometersprovide information about the wearer’s altitude. If used in PPE, commanders can tell whether a firefighter is on the first or third floor. They will know where to direct backup or whom to call out.
- Heart rate sensorsindicate fatigue, overheating and overexertion.
The challenge has been making sensor technology available to wearers in a heated environment filled with smoke and toxic fumes. The average Fit Bit, smart phone or smart watch cannot withstand the conditions firefighters face on the job. IoT advances surmount these challenges. It is now possible to create rugged sensors for smart PPE that share pertinent data with incident commanders over the cloud.Smart PPE improves situational awareness as it collects data, sends notifications, and adjusts to internal and external conditions. It benefits frontline personnel by tracking their location and health condition and dispatching the data to authorized officials.
Fire departments around the world are seeking quieter, cleaner and greener vehicles. Now electric fire trucks are available to meet these needs.They will provide the environmental benefits fire departments request, without having to compromise on operational performance, functionality, safety attributes, customization, and the traditional configurations or styling customers expect from the fire apparatus.”The design allows zero-emissions operation when powered by the integrated onboard batteries. The truck also couples to an internal combustion engine to provide uninterrupted power to the pumping system or drive system. Electric Vehicles are the future of Fire Services. Many international Fire Fighting Organizations have goals to establish green fleets within the next decade or so.
Turnout Gear Advances
Turnout gear presents manufacturers with an interesting conundrum. The protective clothing’s main job is to shield firefighters from the very fire they’re fighting. But this gear also must protect in a way that “prevents the No. 1 killer of firefighters, which is heat stress, while safeguarding them from the No. 1 disease, which is cancer,”.It’s a scenario without easy answers. Most turnout gear worn by firefighters contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—a toxic class of chemicals used to meet water-resistant uniform standards. But studies link PFAS chemicals to a variety of health problems, including cancer, even at low doses.
The latest turnout gear innovations are changing the tide. PFAS-free materials, such as fibers from DuPont, do not use short- or long-chain PFAS in the aramid spinning process. Honeywell’s Morning Pride division now offers PFAS-free turnout gear. And Fire-Dex, a family-owned global PPE manufacturer, has announced TECGEN71+ and TECGEN51+ PPE fabrics with a PFAS-free water-repellent finish.PFAS-free fabric comes with minor tradeoffs. The fabric loses some water and oil repellency, meaning it absorbs slightly more of both than its PFAS-containing counterparts. But PFAS-free fabrics still meet NFPA 1971 standards.PFAS-free gear offers the same thermal protection and moves the same way. The color fastness and wear remain the same.
Anything we can do to reduce heat stress at a fire event and help firefighters cool down faster as they exit the fire is incredibly important.We push our suppliers to see how lightweight they can get while keeping durability and protection high.
The six technologies listed above are changing the way we fight fires today as researchers and developers innovate and increase their sophistication for tomorrow.