While significant advancements have been made to construct fire-resistant buildings and improve fire prevention techniques, the incidence of fires is still a common problem that we face today. In 2018, according to the National Fire Protection Association, a fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds in the United States. Let’s also not forget wildfires, which burned about 4.7 million acres in the United States alone in 2019.
As the risk of fires continues to be prevalent, firefighters must be equipped with the proper tools to respond to these harmful situations effectively. Thankfully technology for fire and rescue has come a long way. We’ve compiled five innovative technologies that could transform how firefighters do their job. Read on to learn how they improve situational awareness, save lives, and reduce operational costs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI has been the breakthrough technology for most sectors, and fire and rescue is no exception. While it is still in the learning phase, NASA developed a software application called AUDREY, the Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction, and Synthesis. In short, AUDREY collects essential fire data – such as temperatures, the presence of gases, how quickly a fire develops, how much time firefighters have to respond, and fire flow paths. From this data, AUDREY recommends the best way for firefighters to navigate the situation in the best way possible through wearable sensors. At the moment, AUDREY is learning through working with scientists, programmers, and first responders in controlled burn environments. The hope for AUDREY is that it will serve as a guide for firefighters by providing recommendations on how they could all work together.
Electric Fire Trucks
Electric vehicles are already a normal concept for regular drivers. But what about electric fire trucks? Austrian firm Rosenbauer has created the world’s first electric fire truck at a price of $1.6 million. While this is just a concept vehicle, some fire departments such as the North Vancouver Fire Department, are already considering incorporating this type of apparatus into their fleet. The advantages of this fire truck include its ability to lift or drop to four heights to accommodate terrain or fire crews. It has a compact exterior designed for urban centres, and intensely bright LED lights. As it is electric, the vehicle is virtually silent when operating.
It’s worth mentioning that an electric vehicle would be convenient in urban areas where fire trucks tend to make shorter trips. This eliminates the need to make regular trips to the gas station as it can recharge once its back at the fire station.
Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR)
AR has already been used in a variety of settings, like the video game industry. But it is now being explored in fire and rescue. Currently, firefighters carry thermal vision cameras to help them see through flames and smoke. However, this requires one hand always to be occupied. To allow firefighters to operate hands-free, thermal cameras are now being attached to helmets and masks. AR masks and helmets enable firefighters to see through smoke and other debris to improve their situational awareness.
AR is also being used to train firefighters to look for digital beacons in smoke-filled rooms.
Additionally, VR is being heavily considered (and implemented) in fire departments for training. VR allows firefighters to train for real-life scenarios, such as wildfires, that are too dangerous for live-fire training. VR training also enables fire departments to reduce economic, environmental, and human costs. Along with the increase of fire departments moving to online training, VR will definitely be a tool that will complement live-fire training.
Sonic Fire Extinguisher
We know that traditional fire extinguishers use chemical compounds to put out fires, but have you heard of using sound waves to put out flames? This idea originated from two engineering students from George Mason University in 2017 who used a small subwoofer gun to spread the sound waves. A sonic fire extinguisher would provide a cleaner (and healthier) way of putting out fires as the chemical compounds in a traditional extinguisher can cause additional property damage and health risks. While this idea was originally tested to put out small kitchen fires, advancements have been made to enable the technology for larger-scale use, such as wildfires. One possible application is to attach the devices to drones to cover a wider area effectively. Or, using sonic fire extinguishers to create acoustic boundary lines to prevent fires from spreading. In a situation such as a wildfire, this would be extremely helpful where it could help buy more time for firefighters to respond.
Scheduling & Workforce Management Software
In regards to operational costs, something that may be overlooked is how efficient a fire department’s scheduling process is. An inefficient scheduling process such as using a spreadsheet can result in unnecessary overtime costs, deploying unqualified personnel to work assignments, and utilizing teams that are improperly staffed. This is why it’s crucial to have a robust scheduling and workforce management software such as InTime. With InTime, these processes can be automated to ensure you always have the proper trained and qualified staff on your apparatus’. InTime also shows you if a scheduling change puts you below staffing levels, ensuring that you fill overtime efficiently and equitably. Various fire departments, such as CAL FIRE, have experienced the advantages of having an automated scheduling process.
Even though some of these technologies are still in the testing phase, it’s exciting to see the positive changes that these will have on Fire and Rescue. Fire departments can be better equipped to protect their communities as well as the health of their own firefighters, while cutting down on operational costs.
Let us know, are there tech tools we didn’t mention?