Interconnected technologies to make firefighters safer

on the site, and review other information vital to mounting an effective fire-and-rescue operation.

Data captured and sent by mobile and stationary sensors — situated in buildings and attached to fire-fighter equipment and clothing — can significantly improve the situational awareness of incident commanders and responders. Sensors embedded in personal protection equipment, for example, can detect hazardous materials, monitor temperature and alert to the potential for flashover, and track the location and health condition of responders. And equipping employee badges with sensors could help rescuers to locate them in a burning building.

The roadmap also details the potential benefits of deploying sensor-laden robots, drones, other unmanned vehicles and equipment at fire scenes. These technologies could be used both to provide situational awareness — a”360-degree view” of the scene — and to report useful data on conditions within a burning structure.

NIST notes that mobile sensors, according to the roadmap, may be especially valuable when battling wildland fires, which often require the assistance of firefighters dispatched from outside the affected area. Sensor-supplied data, combined with other digital information, could familiarize responders with the terrain, weather conditions and other factors that influence a fire’s path and how fast it is spreading.

Fire departments in several cities already are exploiting CPS technologies. When fire fighters are dispatched in Frisco, Texas, for example, they access a system that displays maps, locations of fire hydrants, lists of hazardous materials, site details and other information.

The roadmap also cites New York City’s FireCast, a “data-driven predictive risk-engine.” Now in its third iteration, FireCast gathers data from numerous sources — from building permits to power outage reports — to develop daily-updated fire-risk profiles for each of the 330,000buildings in the city’s inspection database. Fire inspectors use FireCast to prioritize inspections, leading to an increase in the number of reported violations, which is expected to pay off with a reduction in fire losses.

Numerous opportunities to leverage CPS applications for preventing and fighting fires more effectively are described in the roadmap. While some will require advances in technology, many hinge on standardization, prototyping demonstrations, testing and other underpinning efforts.

Major challenges include ensuring reliable connectivity and technology performance in hostile fire environments; achieving interoperability among disparate databases, devices, software tools, networks and organizations; and preventing information overload, which undermines the goal of timely, targeted decision-making.

The roadmap suggests several vehicles to speed progress. The Research Roadmap for Smart Fire Fighting draws on contributions from industry, university and government experts in data, communications, human factors, fire science and fire fighting. It can be downloaded from the NIST Web site.