Firefighters face a variety of risks when responding to a fire, including burns, smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion, and being crushed by collapsing structures. And firefighters face these dangers often, with a fire department responding to a fire every 24 seconds in the United States in 2017. When it comes to safety, IIoT can play an important role.
Through sensors equipped to a firefighter’s suit, a variety of health factors can be monitored, including heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, oxygen levels, room temperature and the level of toxic gas or chemicals in the surrounding air. Through IIoT, data from the sensors can be delivered in real time to the incident commander, who can then use that information to relay commands, such as to hold back if the air is too toxic. Sensors can detect movement, telling the incident commander where their people are located inside a structure. They can also give alerts if a firefighter has not moved for an extended period or if they have fallen.
In smart cities, IIoT can allow an incident commander to pull up data on a tablet in route to a fire. This data could include aerial imagery of a structure, 3D blueprints, the number of people known to reside in a building, the location of nearby fire hydrants and utilities to be warry of, such as gas mains and powerlines. This information saves time and allows the commander to strategize before arrival.
Displays built into a firefighter’s mask can provide a real-time visualized floorplan, allowing them to identify individual rooms, floors, staircases – things that become difficult to distinguish through fire and smoke. Through IIoT, connected cameras and sensors can relay information to be displayed on the mask, such as CO2 levels, how much oxygen is in firefighter’s tank, the stability of a structure, if combustible chemicals or gas lines have been detected. Thermal imaging can identity fire hot spots and if there are any people in the building.
Robot & Drone Technology in Firefighting
Firefighting robots can scout ahead into areas that may be unsafe, such as unstable structures or buildings known to hold combustible materials, and report sensory information back to the incident commander. They can also move ahead of firefighters to clear heavy debris or ventilate smoke. They can hold water hoses on their own, freeing up their human counterparts to perform other tasks, such as with the robot recently used in the Notre Dame fire.
Firefighters at Notre Dame also used a drone to monitor the roof they feared might collapse. Drones can give a bird’s eye view of a fire, giving incident commanders a better understand of a fire’s total spread. Drones can be equipped with hoses, their own water tanks, or extinguishing compounds to help put out fires. Like robots, drones equipped with sensors can relay information back to incident commanders. Drones are also being used to help monitor and put out wildfires.
In 2015, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Fire Protection Research Foundation released a research roadmap toward achieving “Smart Fire Fighting.” The goal of the roadmap is to cut losses of firefighter and civilian fatalities and injuries and property loses through technological developments. IIoT seems certain to be the future of firefighting.