Firefighting into the Future

We look at some of the technology of tomorrow that can make firefighting safer.

In 2017, the International Association of Fire and Rescue Services (CTIF) released its annual World Fire Statistics report, a collection of fire and loss statistics based on data from thirty-one countries, including the United States. According to the report, the US experienced 1,945,000 fire events, 3,250 fire-related deaths, and 15,700 fire-related injuries in 2015.

The United States also ranks as the country with the highest fire-emergency call rates relative to population alongside France and Singapore. These statistics reinforce what many of us already know: firefighting is a critical service that prevents massive loss of life and property loss.

Firefighters place themselves in harm’s way for their communities every day, and as technology continues to propel forward, new advancements proffer potentially life-changing benefits to the men and women in the fire service. Below, we highlighted some innovative equipment that could improve safety, reduce risk, and maximize operational efficiency for our fire districts.

A New Kind of Fire Truck

In 2017, the Rosenbauer Group, one of the top three manufacturers of fire-service vehicles in the world, revealed a Concept Fire Truck (CFT) consisting of a series of batteries that boasts lower emissions and fuel efficiency, but with the same functionality of an engine-driven apparatus. The company stated that this new apparatus will cost the same as its traditional counterpart, and in addition to its focus on environmental compliance and sustainability, designed the CFT with “ultra light and ergonomic equipment storage solutions,” “intelligent electronic wing mirrors [that] reside inside the door to reduce width and further prevent collision risk,” and a bigger crew cab.

The CFT can also operate from ground level meaning that firefighters will no longer need to climb into the cabin. We anticipate that once Rosebauer begins commercially developing its CFT it will become the standard to which all other fire trucks will follow.

The Unstoppable Water Gun

If we were to tell you there is a water gun that can punch through concrete walls to extinguish fires inside a building, would you believe us? It may sound like something out of a comic book, but the PyroLance has actually been available for some time.

A firefighting tool that improves on the traditional method of engaging fires, the PyroLance resembles a rifle and pierces the outer structure with a special compound consisting of pressurized water and granite material to punch a hole roughly the size of a dime before pumping water inside. Once it begins pumping its ultra-high pressure water mist, the PyroLance can lower the temperature from 1,500 F to 200 F in less than a minute. The benefits of this technology are obvious; firefighters can now engage fires without entering a hazardous structure, eliminate the threat of backdraft, and treat confined spaces and closed structures such as attics and high-rise floors that have traditionally posed a high risk to fire service personnel. The ultra-high pressure water mist also covers a larger area of effect, making it arguably more effective than traditional water flow.

Pyrolance, the manufacturer, has been supplying its equipment to the US Air Force since 2013. According to Chief Master Sergeant Scott Knupp, the Air Force began looking for alternative solutions to fighting fires following the destruction of one if its expensive aircraft, “Firefighters had difficulty getting through the composite layers of the aircraft skin to fight the fire.” With its ability to punch through concrete and even bulletproof glass, PyroLance is also being used by the US Navy, Houston Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Rolls Royce and more. To give you an understanding of PyroLance’s efficiency, take a look at the following average times it takes to penetrate different materials:

  • Double brick-faced wall: 30 seconds
  • Concrete block: 35 seconds
  • FedEx cargo plane: 3 seconds

The King of Ladders

As many of you know, properly setting up and operating ladders is a major safety concern for firefighters. Many fire service training manuals have entire lesson plans dedicated to ground ladder training, employing drills like rescuing an unconscious victim from a second story floor or guides on how to perform head first ladder bails. The type and size of ladder also counts; one of the biggest operational issues that firefighters encounter during overhaul, or “opening walls, ceilings, voids, and partitions to check for fire extension in both the precontrol and postcontrol phases of firefighting operations” is finding the right ladder.

The company Little Giant Ladders Systems has a product called the Overhaul, designed by firefighters for firefighters. The Overhaul seeks to be an all-purpose ladder, sitting at 4 to 7 inches when retracted and extending up to 17 feet. It also comes with features like ratchet levelers to assist firefighters working on uneven ground, folding roof and rafter hooks, adjustable non-slip rubber feet for slick surfaces, and casters for carrying.

VR is the New Reality

Firefighters are regularly asked to operate under dangerous conditions, and providing live-field exercises that address those dangers can be costly and difficult to reproduce while exposing trainees to potential life-threatening risks. The FLAIM Trainer is an augmented reality training system that simulates real-life fire events and conditions with hardware components designed after industry standard equipment including a breathing apparatus kit that incorporates the head mounted VR display, a branch nozzle, and protective clothing with the ability to produce heat generation.

But, how realistic is the experience?

Developed by Associate Professor and volunteer firefighter James Mullins from the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation at Deakin University, the FLAIM trainer allows the trainee to see smoke, fire and even the water stream from the hose component. Additionally, the hose carries pressurized air and is attached to an inertia reel to simulate dragging charged hoses, and the protective clothing allows the trainee to feel temperature differences depending on their position in relation to the simulated source of heat.

While augmented reality is still a burgeoning technology, we are beginning to see its wider applications to fields like healthcare and education. The FLAIM Trainer can completely reshape how fire districts approach train their firefighters.

Mega Firefighter Robot Activate!

Presented in the 22nd International Conference on Automation & Computing, a study entitled “Robot-Assisted Smart Firefighting and Interdisciplinary Perspectives” asserts, “[there is] a considerable body of unmanned remotely driven response robots has proven to lower certain risks for the emergency team” and proceeds to highlight emerging technologies and their direct applications to firefighting.

The study goes into detail life-threatening scenarios to emergency personnel, whether due to obstructions, tumbledown architectures, and/or low visibility, and identifies how robotics currently available can address and mitigate some of those risks.

But, robotics in any occupation is often accompanied by wariness. “Robots are taking over,” is a common refrain in many industries as advancements in robotics take over assembly lines and labor-intensive jobs. Perhaps, that’s why the company behind the firefighting robot Thermite RS1-T3 includes this disclaimer in their product description: “Thermite is not intended to replace firefighters in any way. Instead this remarkable firefighting robot is an advanced tool developed to assist first responders in safely and efficiently combating industrial and HAZMAT fires.”. With its ability to tow nearly a ton, and is equipped with high intensity lighting and complete heat shielding. It can identify, access, and engage fires that may otherwise be inaccessible.

While many of these technologies feel futuristic, they are either available now or will be soon. Most of these things would qualify for the Safety Grant program, and we can’t wait to cut a check to reimburse 50% of your next purchase of a PyroLance or a giant robot firefighter.

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