Intelligent wearable technology is becoming an increasingly positive asset to the firefighting industry and is contributing to advancements in firefighter safety. By investing in innovative product design and development, companies can ensure that new and improved products make it to the frontline.
The firefighting industry is no stranger to advanced technologies with location devices, real-time monitoring and drones now commonplace in many forces. These technologies have made a significant difference to how firefighters operate and are playing an important part in saving lives but it is the acceleration of developments in wearable technology, that stand to truly revolutionise the way forces work.
Wearable technology by definition is a ‘wearable’ that incorporates computer or advanced technologies with practical functions or features. In computer science, this is also known as Ubiquitous Computing, meaning computing can be made to appear using any device, location or format.
As wearable technology becomes faster, smaller and more efficient, it is rapidly becoming part of people’s everyday lives – in both the consumer and industrial markets. The technology is no longer just confined to smart watches and fitness trackers, as it is finding important applications in industrial settings, such as fire, where it is dramatically improving the way people work and has even helped to save lives.
Early wearable technology
Thermal Imaging Camera (TICs) technology is perhaps one of the most successful examples of how technology can be embraced by the firefighting industry to help them do their job more effectively. TICs enable firefighters on the frontline to ‘build’ a bigger and clearer picture of every incident, improving situational awareness, and helping to define the best solution to tackle the blaze, and identify any people that may be in danger as quickly as possible. For firefighters that are about to enter the highly volatile environment of an inferno, TICs can help to identify ‘cooler’ areas, and help to avoid the highest risk ‘hot spot’ areas, where the blaze could cause floors and ceilings to collapse.
Some of the earliest examples of wearable technology took the form of head-mounted portable Thermal Imaging Cameras (TICs) which were introduced to the fire services in the 1990s. Unfortunately as they were extremely heavy, cumbersome and difficult to use, take-up was poor. In fact TICs in general got off to a slow start in the firefighting industry. The heavy weight of the equipment combined with high costs and a lack of experience of how to deploy the technology, meant in the early days they were often left on the shelf.
Today it is a different story. Manufacturers recognised the need to educate and assist their customers in understanding the real benefits of the technology and how it could be used which slowly helped TICs to grow in popularity. Since then significant investment has helped manufacturers to deliver more affordable, easy-to-use technology so TICs are now widely used by firefighters, not just for finding fires but for much more, including monitoring convection, establishing how swiftly a fire is moving and locating victims.
In recent years, robotic technology has been paired with TIC equipment, to enable firefighters to reduce the human exposure to associated dangers of a blaze, demonstrating how technology can be used to protect rescue teams where possible. However, when firefighters do need to enter a hazardous environment, TICs can be an essential tool.
Despite their popularity, current practice using TICs still leaves many firefighters doing their job in the dark. More often than not when firefighters enter a scene, one member of the team will use a hand-held thermal imaging camera to navigate through the scene, assess their surroundings, and perform search and rescue. This firefighter will simultaneously communicate what they can see through the thermal imaging camera to their colleagues behind them who are working in darkness, therefore acting as their ‘eyes’ and navigating them safely. This is useful because it leaves the other firefighters with the use of their hands but this is at the expense of their sight.
What if every firefighter could see clearly in every situation?
In recent years, collaboration between the fire & rescue services and manufacturers has become central to innovation in the industry. Fire and rescue services have become more proactive in identifying their own needs by working in cross-functional procurement teams to put together meaningful specifications and demands. With their confidence in the use of TICs growing, and the price of the technology coming down, firefighters began asking whether this technology could be made even more accessible and easy to use.
Scott Safety set about exploring this question through its ‘Firefighter of the Future’ initiative which brings together a group of firefighting experts with the sole focus of harnessing the latest technology to benefit firefighters. The ultimate question was, ‘could thermal imaging be integrated inside the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) mask, so that every firefighter could see clearly in every situation?’
This challenge was delivered to Scott Safety’s ‘Firefighter of the Future’ group in late 2014, and the team set to work, with the vision to create a product that was reliable, intuitive, durable and that would give customers real-time, actionable situational intelligence. The result of this focus was Scott Sight – an advanced, hands-free, in-mask thermal imaging intelligence system.
By integrating a thermal imaging intelligence system into the masks, firefighters get back their sight, providing them with a clear, unobstructed view of their surroundings in real-time. This also gives them back the use of their hands which allows them to safely navigate a scene and speed up the rescue process, thus vastly improving their safety and mobility.
When it is used as a supplement to existing hand-held technology, wearers are provided with hands-free visibility in often inhospitable situations. This enables the wearer to stay focused on the fire, hazards and casualties while also providing the means to identify a secondary egress in the event of a sudden change of circumstances.
Setting the stage for future innovation
This wearable technology is a good example of what can be achieved when the fire & rescue service and manufacturers work closely together. The collaborative relationship will ensure that any technological developments can be harnessed to make firefighters safer and more efficient.
Wearable technology is advancing at such a rate it is almost impossible to predict what the future holds but market intelligence specialist CCS Insight predicts (1) that in 2020, 411 million smart wearable devices will be sold worth a staggering $34 billion. It is likely that this is just the beginning; in the future headgear could potentially integrate a plethora of traditionally handheld technologies, freeing up safety professionals to get on with their jobs more efficiently.
Hands-free thermal vision
Scott Sight is lightweight and powerful, weighing just 240grams and producing a 160×120 resolution at nine frames per second through an infinity lens to ensure firefighters see a crystal clear picture without causing eyestrain. Scott Sight’s adjustable view, user interface options, and hot spot and temperature settings means it is also configurable to the individual wearer’s needs. Scott Sight is auto-dimming to protect against changing light conditions.
Scott Sight is also compatible with the AV 3000HT Face Piece; a high performance positive pressure face piece manufactured using innovative materials that have been engineered to provide enhanced thermal durability and improved wearer safety.
For more information, go to www.scottsafety.com/emea