Colossus, a fire-fighting robot, was deployed in the nave of the Notre Dame cathedral during the destructive fire on April 15 in Paris. Pumping water high into the air and onto the flames, the robot was instrumental in turning the tide for firefighters, extinguishing the fire and lowering temperatures inside the nave. Colossus was developed by the French Company Shark Robotics and deployed with the Paris Fire Brigade.

The caterpillar-tracked robot stands just two and a half feet tall, weighs 1,000 pounds and can carry another 1,100 pounds of equipment. At Notre Dame it helped firefighters extinguish the blaze and mostly save 850 years of history.

It helped firefighters extinguish the blaze and mostly save 850 years of history

Robots in firefighting

The historic use of Colossus illustrates the growing role of robotics in firefighting, including mobile systems with advanced features to assist an operator in navigation and to perform a wider range of tasks.

According to Brian Lattimer, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Virginia Tech, a robotic system is a mechanical device that performs a task using sensors to perceive its environment, computer programs to control the robot based on its environment, and a human operator to assist with robot operation. A variety of robotic systems support a range of fire events, whether involving structures, vehicles, aircrafts, shops or wildlands, he says.

In addition, the functionality of robot systems varies to support firefighters in tasks such as sizing up the fire, identifying trapped people, locating the fire, monitoring conditions, controlling fire spread and suppression, says Lattimer.

Sizing up the fire, identifying trapped people, locating the fire, monitoring conditions, controlling fire spread and suppression

automated robotics

Also, aerial robotics such as drones provide added situational awareness, and indoor robots can eliminate fires at close range. There are also fixed systems, such as automated fire monitors, that can be used to extinguish significant fire hazards rapidly.

Several robots have found utility in the fire service in recent years.


Fire-fighting robots were essential for suppressing the blaze at Notre Dame

Other life-saving robots

The Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot (THOR), developed for the U.S. Navy’s Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFIR) program, is a human-like robot that can travel across unstable floors on ships, utilize hoses, and open doors. Because Navy ships have hazardous materials on board, extinguishing fires is critical. The robot uses stereoscopic thermal imaging and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors to navigate. It walks and works semi-autonomously with the help of a remote operator.

The Thermite Robot is a small tank created by Howe and Howe Technologies for the U.S. Army. The Thermite RS1-T4 is remotely operated with a belly-pack controller that provides high-definition and infrared video in real-time. It has the power to push vehicles from its path, the agility to climb stars and can output 1,250 gpm of water at 200 psi. Thermite is designed as an advanced tool to help operators combat fires safely and efficiently.

It has the power to push vehicles from its path, the agility to climb stars and can output 1,250 gpm of water at 200 psi

Turbine Aided Firefighting Machine (TAF 20) is a robot created by Emicontrols, a subsidiary of the TechnoAlpin Group. Designed for small spaces such as tunnels, it uses a turbine to clear smoke, move obstacles with a bulldozer blade and focus its water spray from a mist to a jet.  

an emerging technology component

The Fire Ox, a robotic firefighting vehicle that carries its own water tank, is designed as a first response unit. It suppresses fires, assists in search and rescue, and can handle dangerous materials. It is semi-autonomous and can be controlled from up to 200 miles away.

Research at Purdue University has yielded firefighting robots with an automatic T-valve system, a “discharge valve,” that can remove water from the fire hose whenever a robot moves to a new location. The technology takes less energy and enables a firefighting robot to maneuver more quickly and efficiently around a burning structure.

Robots can withstand hazardous environments and help to avoid injury to firefighters. They are an emerging technology component that will impact the art and science of firefighting for years to come.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor,, Notting Hill Media

In case you missed it

How Can We Better Ensure Firefighter Health And Wellness?
How Can We Better Ensure Firefighter Health And Wellness?

Ensuring the health and wellness of firefighters is a burden shared among equipment manufacturers as well as the fire departments and individual firefighters. Thoughtful design of equipment and other products used in the fire service can be a positive factor as firefighters and other first responders face dangerous situations every day. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What steps can we take to better ensure firefighter health and wellness?

Maintaining Fire Safety Through A Pandemic
Maintaining Fire Safety Through A Pandemic

There have been challenges with completing fire safety maintenance and installation projects during the current Covid-19 crisis, most notably as a result of the difficulties for installers in safely accessing sites. Many construction projects halted for lockdown and this resulted in approximately 50% of the British installers we work with having to furlough staff. The challenges, however, are not just restricted to the UK. With Kentec panels sold in more than 90 countries across the world, we have seen varying challenges on a global scale. Throughout this crisis, fire safety continues to be paramount and as such key players, such as Kentec, are rightly considered essential businesses. We have continued manufacturing life safety systems throughout the current difficulties and it has been our mission to ensure that where new installations can take place, our panels are readily available to installers, as well as the expertise and technical support that goes with it for ongoing maintenance. Orders for spare parts have also, in fact, been consistently high during this period, as installers have been able to complete minor upgrades safely and end users have taken advantage of the period to do so. Adapting manufacturing processes to align with government guidelines so that customers have not experienced any supply issues with any life safety systems or parts has been a major success. Critical Infrastructure We’ve personally seen an increase in sales for our industry-leading Sigma XT extinguishant panels during this crisis as it is widely used within critical infrastructure, in sectors such as telecommunications, data centres and healthcare. Adapting manufacturing processes to align with government guidelines has been a major success During lockdown, with a vast proportion of the population working from home and relying on the internet to conduct their business and virtual meetings, it has been more important than ever that there is no loss in service in broadband and telephone services. This means that highly reliable and robust fire extinguishing systems are essential to protect essential workers and vital equipment – not only from the risk of fire, but also from the catastrophic damage that false alarms and the release of extinguishant could have, for example, on server room equipment. Understandably, this has resulted in considerable investment in fire systems in these sectors. Glasgow’s Louisa Jordan NHS Facility The recent fire safety installation at the Louisa Jordan NHS Facility Glasgow – located at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) which provides more than 500 COVID-19 beds – is just one example of essential fire safety work being completed during lockdown. Vipond Fire Protection Ltd installed a total of seven Sigma XT gas suppression panels, and 32 detectors located within the electrical room that serves the 10,000m2 facility. The project was completed in what was an extremely tight seven-day turnaround, delivering proven reliability within a crucial healthcare facility. Kentec's Experience Operating Through Covid-19 We have learned that operating through this crisis and supporting installations that are going ahead is best achieved through detailed planning, communication and collaboration. For example, we’re supporting our distributors by shipping directly to their customers, when it is not safe or feasible to open their warehouses. Operating through this crisis is best achieved through detailed planning, communication and collaboration Our own workforce is also adapting to changing work patterns and demands. In the factory, at a practical level, this has meant implementing new shifts schedules starting from six o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night to ensure there are never too many people on site at one time. We have staggered arrival, leaving and break times to mitigate any risks involved at entrances, and we were lucky that space allowed us to make the canteen area bigger and increase the number of toilets from three to ten. We have moved work benches to ensure a safe distance between each employee, and where workflows make two-metre distancing impossible we have installed six- and eight-foot screens. Face masks have been provided to all staff and we are also trialling face shields for further comfort and protection. Our office staff have worked from home, and where going to the office has been necessary, they have similarly adhered to staggered arrival times. Internal communication has been essential and I’m immensely proud and extremely thankful for the positivity, proactivity and support that employees have shown through this process.     We have also adapted our Kentec Installation Partner (KIP) scheme to be fully remote to ensure training and support is there when it is needed for our installers. We are hosting webinars as another forum to solve installer queries remotely, and our new range of Taktis panels have highly advanced networking capabilities and a vast suite of communication tools that support remote monitoring. It is therefore critical that our installers fully understand how to help end users realise the benefits such panels can deliver and to ensure their installations are completed successfully. Looking Ahead To The New Normal Remote monitoring will become increasingly important beyond this crisis We feel that remote monitoring will become increasingly important beyond this crisis and the advanced communication capabilities of panels will be essential for both installers and end users alike. For installers it reduces the amount of time required on site, because they can access the system remotely to find out what equipment or parts they need to take with them. Similarly, for end users they can access systems remotely to check any alerts or queries off site if necessary. It remains to be seen how the rest of 2020 will pan out, but where projects have been necessarily put on hold, because of the essential nature of our industry we are confident that installers will be able to quickly and easily return to these projects when it is safe and feasible to do so. Communication, collaboration and support will continue to be essential in mitigating the challenges in our future ‘new normal.’

Even with Firefighters Retiring Earlier, Pension Costs Remain Manageable
Even with Firefighters Retiring Earlier, Pension Costs Remain Manageable

Because the physical challenges take a toll, firefighters tend to retire at earlier ages than other occupations. There is also a greater likelihood of workplace disability. Firefighter pension plans are often more generous to offset a lack of Social Security eligibility for some public safety employees. Also, more years of retirement translate into an overall increase in medical care costs for fire service retirees. Therefore, pension benefits for public safety workers are more expensive than those for other government employees, according to an analysis by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE). Even so, retirement costs for firefighters and police officers represent only a small percentage of total expenditures for city, county and school district jurisdictions – around 2%. Even if you focus on jurisdictions in which public safety costs are most significant—the city and county levels – the burden is still small, averaging only 4.9% of aggregate spending for cities and 1.9% for counties. Pension Changes Could Impact Firefighter Recruitment Pension benefit generosity is about 25% greater for police and fire employees Any changes in retirement or medical care plans could negatively impact efforts to recruit enough firefighters, which are already a challenge. For example, shifting the retirement age would reduce total employee compensation, which could negatively affect retention. A wage increase to offset the change would maintain total compensation at previous levels. In 2016, the costs of pension benefits earned for police and fire personnel made up 15% of the payroll, compared with only 8% for non-public safety local employees. Annual retiree health care benefits made up 6% of payroll, compared to 4% for other employees. Analyzing Retirement Benefits Earlier retirement ages translate into longer retirement periods for these workers, which impact higher pension costs. Public safety employees are eligible for their benefits at younger ages than other groups, even though the average expected lifespans at retirement are similar. Pension benefit generosity is about 25% greater for police and fire employees, a difference that offsets the lack of Social Security coverage for some public safety employees. Any changes in retirement or medical care plans could negatively impact efforts to recruit enough firefighters, which are already a challenge “Local governments across the country are continually analyzing the retirement benefits provided to the public safety workforce, along with associated costs,” says Joshua Franzel, PhD., President and CEO of SLGE. “This research provides government leaders and policymakers with a national snapshot so they can make informed decisions.” Outdated Assumptions? Some evidence suggests that assumptions about earlier retirement ages for police and firefighters may be outdated. Despite the physical demands of the jobs, some local governments have sought to retain experienced employees using a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which allows employees to claim pensions while continuing to work. Higher DROP participation rates – with some public safety employees working five years longer – suggest that employees may be able to stay on the job until later ages. Also, the U.S. Army (whose jobs can also be physically demanding) has raised its mandatory retirement age for active duty soldiers from 55 to 62.  emphasizing employee health and fitness Use of technology can help to ease the physical burdens of public safety jobs, and an emphasis on employee health and fitness can also improve the picture. The analysis was conducted by CPR researchers Jean-Pierre Aubry, Associate Director of State and Local Research; and Kevin Wandrei, Research Associate. The research assesses the size of public safety retiree benefit costs using public safety employee data from the Public Plans Database, the U.S. Census Bureau, and government actuarial valuations.