• A first: Engineering students design firefighting humanoid robot

    In fall 2014 in Mobile Bay, Alabama, Virginia Tech engineering students made history during a five-minute demo that placed an adult-sized humanoid robot with a hose in front of a live fire aboard a U.S. Navy ship. The robot located the fire and sprayed water from the hose. Water blasted the flames. The demo, four years in the making, is part of a new effort by the U.S. Navy better to assist sailors in fighting fires, controlling damage, and carrying out inspections aboard ships via user-controlled unmanned craft or humanoid robots.

  • Modeling study reveals the lethal dynamics of a San Francisco house fire

    A new computer-based fire-dynamics study by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has helped to clarify the circumstances and violent fire behavior of a lethal 2011 blaze in a San Francisco hillside home. The fire in the multi-story, single-family dwelling claimed the lives of two firefighters.

  • Firefighters portable radios may fail at elevated temperatures

    Firefighters rely on the radios to report their location and to communicate with other first responders as well as the incident command post or communications center. Performance problems with portable radios have been identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as contributing factors in some firefighter fatalities. New test results from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) confirm that portable radios used by firefighters can fail to operate properly within fifteen minutes when exposed to temperatures that may be encountered during firefighting activities.

  • New report, video detail dynamics of deadly Chicago house fire

    A new NIST computer-modeling study of a 2012 Chicago house fire reveals the conditions that unleashed a surge of searing gases, leading to the death of a veteran firefighter. The simulation shows that fire in a covered back porch caused a closed steel-faced, wood-framed door to crumble, releasing pressure and causing hot gases to pour into the adjoining hallway where the victim and another firefighter were advancing a fire hose. The coincidental timing of the responders’ “interior attack” and the door’s failure proved to be deadly. In less than five seconds, the flow of gases caused the hallway temperature to soar, from about 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) to at least 260 degrees Celsius (500 degrees Fahrenheit), the study found.

  • Los Angeles mayor says fire response times are too slow

    Citing new research and statistics, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti claimed that previous fire station response times “stunk” and that with a new program in place, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) would be able to cut those responses considerably. The new FireStat program had revealed that the responses were considerably slower than what former Fire Chief Brian Cummings had been reporting.

  • Digital database, tablets to provide Houston firefighters with fire scene-relevant information

    Firefighters in the greater Houston region will soon rely on tablets to provide information about certain buildings before they arrive at the scene of a fire. An anti-terrorism grant awarded by DHS has paid for the development of a digital database of high-risk structures, including buildings which are critical to the state and city daily operations. The tablets will replace binders full of papers stored in the back of fire engines and command vehicles, which were rarely used because they were difficult to reach while en route to a scene.

  • Mopping up toxic fire-fighting chemicals

    Australian scientists have come up with the solution to a world-wide pollution problem — how to mop up the toxic residues left after the use of special foams to fight fires. The technology uses a modified clay to soak up potential cancer-causing substances in the foam used by fire fighters, defense facilities, and airports worldwide to suppress fires.

  • California braces for worst wildfire season in memory

    California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection(Cal Fire) is bracing for one of the longest and most difficult fire seasons in memory. A recent addition of $23 million to the emergency wildfire budget for the fiscal year that began 1 July, brings the department’s budget total to $209 million. “That’s just the first week, and we still have 51 more weeks to go,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for Cal Fire. “We’re not even to the peak of the fire season yet.”

  • Firefighters mull using drones in fighting wildfires

    Federal wildland firefighting officials are exploring the deployment of drones to assist in surveillance and reconnaissance missions during a wildfire. Drones sent to survey fire patterns during a wildfire could help keep firefighters out of risky situations by providing real-time information to officials on the ground. Few wildfire officials have used drones in the line of duty, and managers with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management(BLM) and U.S. Forest Servicesay that while the technology has potential, agencies do not have the budget and have not developed protocols to integrate drones into regular firefighting operations.

  • Colorado tries to increase safety of urban development in wildfire-prone areas

    Colorado continues to deal with the challenge of building new urban developments while reducing wildfire risks. There are currently 556,000 houses built in burn zones around the state, and the demand for water to sustain residents and industries continue to rise. A new study predicts that development will occupy 2.1 million acres in wildfire-prone forests by 2030, an increase from one million acres today — just as wildfires continue to burn roughly 900,000 acres a year since 2000, compared with just 200,000 acres a year in the 1990s.

  • Sandia offers free classes to high school students at the Lab’s Cyber Technologies Academy

    In the rapidly changing world of cybersecurity, who better to learn from than the professionals who live in that world every day? High school students are getting just that opportunity through Sandia National Laboratories’ Cyber Technologies Academy, free classes for high school students interested in computer science and cybersecurity.

  • Examining fire safety concerns raised by green buildings

    In 2012, the “Fire Safety Challenges of Green Buildings” report assembled a list of seventy-eight green building features and construction elements that could have implications for fire safety. The authors then derived a list of potential hazards associated with the features and elements, including greater flammability, faster burn rate, and increased hindrance to firefighters, as compared with conventional construction. A 3-year project, funded with a $1 million grant from DHS, will enable the further exploration of some of the potential risks and hazards identified in the 2012 report.

  • Know when to go: a new way to keep firefighters safe from harm

    For a firefighter, knowing when it’s time to evacuate can be the difference between life and death. But that can be a difficult call to make when you’re trying to protect life, property and resources while battling wildfires in arduous weather and terrain. Whether working at the fire’s edge or creating a fire break far from the front, firefighters must maintain situational awareness and monitor impending threats to their safety. When firefighters are unable to properly recognize risks, or they underestimate conditions, the results can be tragic.

  • “Live burns” to benefit research and firefighter training

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    Fire researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and colleagues from fire service organizations will turn abandoned wood-frame, single-family houses near the site of an old Spartanburg, South Carolina, textile mill into proving and training grounds for new science-driven fire-fighting techniques. The objective of the study is to improve firefighter safety and effectiveness.

  • Using cold plasma to fight fires

    Traditional fire-suppression technologies focus largely on disrupting the chemical reactions involved in combustion; from a physics perspective, however, flames are cold plasmas; DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, theorized that by using physics techniques rather than combustion chemistry, it might be possible to manipulate and extinguish flames