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Firefighting and the IoT

With a son who’s been a volunteer firefighter and EMT since he’s been in high school and is now a professional engineer working in fire equipment sales and support, you can best believe that I was interested in a recent article in Forbes entitled “How The Internet Of Things Can Help Firefighters Save Lives” by Federico Guerrini.

He notes that, with over one millions fire each year in the U.S., which result in thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars in property damage, it may be time to get smarter about firefighting.

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Fire Protection Research Foundation believe that at least part of this heavy toll could be reduced, if fire brigades, instead of relying heavily on the experience and judgment of the incident commander–as it often happens–could base their decisions on the data systematically and scientifically collected on the scene.

Their joint report, “Research Roadmap for Smart Fire Fighting” contains several examples of how enhanced data gathering, processing and delivery could transform traditional fire protection and firefighting practices, combining the points of strengths of what we are getting used to call the “Internet of Things” (in its various declinations) with the big data analytics.(Source: Forbes)

Smarter firefighting would rely on the technology that we’re very familiar with: wireless networks, sensors embedded in the equipment and clothing of responders, imaging from cameras to identify the location of people in a burning building, data from building control systems providing information on hotspots and chemical leaks…

Drones are another technology that has potential. They’re already in use for monitoring wildfires, why not indoors? And:

Robots, equipped with a wide array of chemical sensors, on-board cameras, and lasers, will be used to gather data in risky environments, where humans fear to tread.

All this technology is not going to be put in place overnight. Equipment would have to be purchased and, especially for small town volunteer outfits, funding is always an issue. And, once equipped, firefighters would have to be trained (and sometimes untrained from their old ways).

Then there are regulatory issues to be considered, especially where technology used by “civilians” could get in the way of emergency operations. Easy to imagine locals flying drones over a fire scene, isn’t it?

Another possible issue could be that of information overload. First responders might find themselves “task saturated” by everything – sensors, images, cameras – being thrown at them, and push back, as it happened when the first mobile data computers were deployed: fire officers would ignore them, or in some cases turn them off, preferring to rely on older, tried and true methods instead.

All these considerations aside, smart firefighting equipment will be coming and, as far as I’m concerned, it can’t get here fast enough. One more way in which the IoT really can make life better.