Articles by Larry Anderson
Science shows clearly that the way to reduce the damaging impacts of wildfires and threats to life and property is to proactively manage ecosystems that evolved with fire. This means reintroducing fire in the right ways and places combined with mimicking the effects of fire on forest structure through mechanical treatments. “Rocky Mountain Research Station's Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program (RMRS) focuses on the science of risk management from ways that they can treat fuels and mitigate risks to helping communities assess and mitigate risk and be more resilient,” says Thomas C. Dzomba, Deputy Program Manager and Director of the Fire Modeling Institute. Missoula Fire Lab During the current fire season, the Missoula fire sciences lab has made two major contributions: Risk Management Assessment Team Support The Risk Management Assessment Team has directly supported incidents across the west providing maps, real-time weather, terrain, control feature, and fire behavior data and information to help fire managers determine the best courses of action and probabilities of success for various suppression tactics and strategies. Modeled Risk Of Spread Of COVID-19 Early in the season they modeled the risk of spread of COVID-19 in fire camp and evaluated key mitigation strategies. This information supported agency actions such as social distancing, module-as-one, masks, and testing, which have contributed greatly to the success in minimizing the spread of the disease under very difficult circumstances. The 5-10 year Program Plan Looking ahead to the next 5 to 10 years, the program plans to focus on: Profoundly improving the Forest Service’s ability to manage fire for the benefit of communities and natural resources by improving the understanding of fundamental processes of wildfire behavior and spread. Developing fuel-related tools, products, treatment alternatives, restoration strategies, and accurate forecasting of future conditions to help change the trajectory of increased wildfire and altered fire regimes. Improving the understanding of smoke impacts and how wildfire emissions respond to climate variability and changing landscapes, and developing mitigations. Building on and improving decision support systems, the effectiveness and efficiency of fire and forest management activities, and increasing the safety of planning and operations. Includes developing tools and models to help fire managers weigh trade-offs of decisions in real-time regarding suppression tactics, management strategies, and safety. System Development The Missoula fire sciences laboratory has a long history of producing and supporting systems for management use and will continue to engage in technology transfer in the form of system development. “We live in ecosystems that are historically fire-dependent and have been altered over time by expansion of the wildland-urban interface, external factors such as climate change and the invasion of non-native species, and decades of active fire suppression,” says Dzomba. “Our fire research must align with a more proactive approach to fire management that includes more managed fire on the landscape and a greater focus on restoring landscapes to historical fire regimes as opposed to the reactive approach of addressing wildland fire management after fire is already on the ground.” Balanced Ecosystems Wildfire Risk To Communities website provides interactive information to help communities understand and mitigate wildfire risk. Greg Dillon, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory Western landscapes evolved with fire; it is a necessary component to keep ecosystems functioning and in balance. Science and research clearly point towards solutions for reducing the risk of damaging wildfires, but knowing the answer doesn’t necessarily make it easy to get there. That will take collaboration with local communities, state and federal partners, and science to help managers determine the best places and ways to more safely reintroduce fire to landscapes. Building Resilience There is no one-size-fits-all or magic bullet to make this happen. “Building resilience in our landscapes and communities will take all of us working together,” says Dzomba. “Everyone has a part to play including preventing human-caused wildfires, reducing risks through vegetation management, managing fires in some landscapes when conditions are appropriate, and building in locations and ways that make communities and homes more resistant to fire.”
Public and firefighter safety is the number one priority at the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) in Missoula, Mont. The Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program there seeks to develop tools and technology that can help protect people and communities before, during, and after wildfires. RMRS develops and delivers innovative science and technology to improve the health and use of the nation’s forests and grasslands. Their scientists put tools and knowledge into the hands of managers who can apply them to shared stewardship projects designed to reduce fuels and improve habitat and forest health. enhanced firefighter safety The fire research program has enhanced firefighter safety by improving metrics for determining firefighter safety zones and escape routes, improving and modernizing determination of fire danger, and developing systems and applications such as the Wildfire Safety Evaluator (WiSE) and WildfireSAFE to facilitate use of these metrics by wildland firefighters. The program has also pioneered the development of metrics for scenario planning and assessing wildfire risk to communities. RMRS scientists are leaders in the science of risk management, fire behavior, fire suppression and management, and treating fuels to mitigate risks, as well as post-fire impacts to watersheds and methods to help protect people and communities before, during, and after wildfires. proactive fire management USDA Forest Service is a science-based organization, and research has been part of its mission since its inception “We need to work with our interagency firefighters and industry partners to move us to a more proactive fire management posture,” says Thomas C. Dzomba, Deputy Program Manager and Director of the Fire Modeling Institute at the Rocky Mountain Research Station's Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program. “We are all in this together.” USDA Forest Service is a science-based organization, and research has been part of its mission since its inception in 1905. In 1908, forester Raphael Zon, declared “Here we will plant the first tree of research,” near Flagstaff, Ariz., at the Fort Valley Experiment Station. It later became the Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, and eventually combined in 1953 with the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. providing economic opportunities The combination created the modern footprint of the Rocky Mountain Research Station, which covers 12 states in the intermountain west and includes 14 experimental forests and 14 labs, including the fire sciences lab in Missoula, Mont. The team in Missoula collaborates with researchers globally to advance forest inventory and analysis techniques, to promote science that enhances the wildland fire system, and to provide economic opportunities by improving utilization of wood products. RMRS also conducts extensive research on watersheds, wildlife and fish, rangeland and forest health, insects and diseases, wilderness, human interactions with natural resources, and much more. The Human Performance and Innovation and Organizational Learning (HP&IOL) team is a part of RMRS and serves the entire agency in order to promote a culture of learning and foster a resilient workforce and advance innovations. fire management efforts There are many examples of how fire research can help in adapting to fire on the landscapes that evolved with it HP&IOL seeks input from employees through verbal and written interviews, focus groups, and other means. Additionally, many of the research staff work directly in support of fire management efforts, enabling them to quickly see what could make fire management or prescribed fire more efficient or safer. To promote better understanding of the importance of fire research, the fire industry should talk to partners, community leaders, and the public and show them how science helped improve decision-making before and during fire suppression efforts. There are many examples of how fire research can help in adapting to fire on the landscapes that evolved with it. For example, where have fuel treatments helped buffer communities or important resources? helping protect communities “We should tell our success stories,” says Dzomba. “Ultimately the best safety measure is to not have to fight the fire, because we’ve learned to adapt, developed mitigations and treated fuels before fire occurs to help protect communities and create more resilient landscapes.”
Combining thermal imaging and augmented reality (AR) enables firefighters see through smoke, in effect enhancing their vision in the life-threatening environment of a fire. AR capabilities can be deployed in a visor attached to a helmet, and an affixed thermal camera captures the images. The most recent prototype of such a product is a robust helmet design that withstands rough treatment. The system also includes software processing that augments thermal images to enable firefighters to see the outline of objects more clearly, thus enabling their detection in the field. augmented reality Firefighters can see through the visor/screen, or they can view the thermal image video live overlaid onto their vision. A switch on the side of the helmet allows them to switch among various modes – gray scale, RGB mode, fusion mode, etc. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards specify what information appears on an AR screen. In general, mostly emergency alerts appear so as to simplify the view. The technology began as a project at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to combine augmented reality (AR) with thermal imaging for use by police and fire departments. The project has evolved into the startup company Longan Vision. Live fire situations Funding has been provided by Defense Research and Development of Canada (DRDC) and private sources Development began in 2018 and has continued for two years through six generations of prototypes. The goal throughout the iterations has been to make sure the product is sufficiently robust for use in the field and will hold up to rough usage by firefighters, according to Enzo Jia, CEO and founder of Longan Vision. Funding has been provided by Defense Research and Development of Canada (DRDC) and private sources, and the project has progressed in partnership with industry manufacturers including helmet and apparatus companies. After two years of development, the company is on the verge of testing the product in live fire situations. Pilot testing will begin in January 2021. The device will begin pursuing NFPA certification next March, and hopefully the company will be shipping products by June or July 2021. Local fire departments Longan Vision has depended on feedback from fire departments throughout development of the product. They currently have partnerships with more than eight local fire departments, three in the United States. They meet with fire chiefs and firefighters and ask for their honest opinions on how the device operates, whittling down the good and the bad. Feedback from the departments included the need for hands-free thermal imaging and a system that displays all needed information in their view. The devices have also been tested by fire departments in Tokyo, which has close relationships with Longan Vision’s fire apparatus partners there. “We have tried to work very closely with firefighters,” says Alex Shortt, Longan Vision’s CTO. “We are a group of engineers, but we need firefighters to help us develop a good product. We keep a firefighter focus in all the work we do.” Virtual reality visor The AR device can connect with smart phones or other Internet of Things (IoT) devices to add additional information There are three possibilities for taking the technology to market. One is to work with helmet manufacturers to incorporate the AR technology into helmets. A second possibility is to work with fire apparatus companies to provide the technology as part of a broader ‘system’ of capabilities surrounding modernized apparatus. The third option is to equip the technology with a ‘universal mounting system’ – a series of bands and/or straps that allow the camera and attached virtual reality visor to be installed onto an existing helmet. The AR device can connect with smart phones or other Internet of Things (IoT) devices to add additional information to the system and visor display screen, such as the heart rate of the firefighter, for example. Incident Command Center Firefighters can communicate among themselves using a Mesh network, or alternatively, a 5G network if available. Each firefighter’s unit can also communicate with an incident Command Center. Incorporating VR into a robust helmet is preferable in the fire industry to using an off-the-shelf AR device such as Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens, says Jia. The AR view can be recorded as video to an SD card in the helmet, which can hold two hours or so of footage These devices are not designed for the rigors of the firefighting environment and therefore must be worn inside a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) mask. However, in that scenario, if there is a device failure, removing the device is more complicated, as is the process of handing the device over to another firefighter if someone ‘steps in’ to an emergency situation. The AR view can be recorded as video to an SD card in the helmet, which can hold two hours or so of footage. However, the demand for such a feature is mixed among fire departments. Early detection method A fire chief might want the recording to use for training purposes, but a firefighter might not want the video to be used to judge the potential liability of his every action, which could be open to legal scrutiny or even lawsuits. The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on Longan Vision as they look to launch their new product, including a tightening in the procurement market. On the positive side, the company has adapted the technology into another product, Gatekeeper, that uses thermal imaging to measure skin temperature as an early detection method for elevated temperatures. The system has an accuracy of plus-or-minus 0.3 degrees Celsius and can measure a maximum of five people at a time. The wall-mounted, non-contact unit captures a face image of people entering the video frame and displays each face alongside their skin temperature.
Adapting workspaces to operate safely during a pandemic presents complications, not least of which is making sure that the measures taken to protect employees from infection do not undermine fire safety. In the course of altering a building to prevent infection spread, there are risks of introducing new life safety hazards and compromising emergency preparedness. As buildings adapt to new occupancy standards and requirements, it is critical that any protective measures do not interfere with operation of life safety systems. Might temporary partitions or barriers block escape routes during a fire emergency? Social distancing measures might entail blocking emergency exists and disrupting the flow of occupants looking to vacate a building. It is also important to avoid blocking firefighter access and facilities. Fire Safety Partitions Temporary partitions could block smoke exhausts, sprinkler systems or other elements of a life safety system Temporary partitions could block smoke exhausts, sprinkler systems or other elements of a life safety system. Call points and detectors should remain unobstructed. Partitions should not be installed too closes to any smoke detector. If installed more than 12 inches from the ceiling, partitions serve as walls that can obstruct the flow of smoke and heat, thus causing sprinklers to malfunction, for example. Another consideration is the need to ensure fire safety systems are operating as intended when buildings reopen after being unoccupied for an extended period. Appropriate inspection, testing and maintenance procedures should be followed, including sprinklers, alarm systems and portable fire extinguishers. During the various lockdowns, routine system maintenance might have been postponed or cancelled. Adapting emergency and evacuation procedures Building occupants should be educated on how they need to adapt their emergency and evacuation procedures in light of any COVID-19 related changes. Building owners and managers should also consider any new fire dangers, for example, might storage of large quantities of combustible items such as hand sanitizer constitute a fire hazard? Maintaining social distancing can undermine the ability to vacate a building rapidly during a fire emergency. Obviously, if there is a real fire, the imminent threat of injury or death takes precedence over the goal of preventing infection by a (less likely) disease. In general, because rules have changed, the uncertainty might slow down evacuation. What is the impact of lower occupancy on a building’s emergency procedures? Despite fewer occupants, there should be efforts to ensure enough trained people are on site to carry out evacuation. Fewer employees and staggered work schedules could require additional fire wardens or fire marshals. More training may be needed. frequent fire drills Larger outside assembly areas may be needed to avoid crowding and/or close proximity during a fire drill What about fire drills? How do you weigh the benefits of being prepared to evacuate versus the risk of infection if social distancing requirements are ignored? Do distancing requirements apply as people move through a fire escape? How much more complicated do these questions become in a high-rise building? What about the use of elevators? Larger outside assembly areas may be needed to avoid crowding and/or close proximity during a fire drill. In the event that social distancing rules are breached during a fire drill, should additional quarantine or contact tracing procedures be implemented? fire safety arrangements At the end of the day, most of these hurdles can be overcome. However, they should not be ignored. Careful consideration of the broad impacts of COVID-19 safety measures on life safety ensures that building occupants remain safe from either calamity. As businesses reopen, adequate fire safety arrangements must be a part of the new normal.
Fire extinguishers are red for a reason, aren’t they? Traditionally, red is associated with danger and fire and red is certainly easy to see, even in darker environments. Aesthetic fire extinguishers But a company in Japan is offering a line of fire extinguishers that abandons the signature color for an approach that is more aesthetically pleasing and that fits more easily into modern decor. Disaster prevention brand, Modular Aerial Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) has unveiled fire extinguishers that are black or white, thus defying convention and better harmonizing with a variety of living spaces. The Japanese company, Morita Miyata Corp. has been making fire extinguishers for more than 100 years The Japanese company, Morita Miyata Corp. has been making fire extinguishers for more than 100 years. Their new sleek, minimalist fire extinguishers have won a Good Design Good Focus Award in the category of disaster prevention and recovery design. The award celebrates outstanding works designed for the prevention of and recovery from natural disasters. Disaster preparedness The concept is to ‘Take Bosai into the lifestyle’ (Bosai is disaster preparedness in Japanese). Beyond aesthetics, there is a practical reason to make the lowly fire extinguisher blend more seamlessly with a room’s decor. The reason is that prettier fire extinguishers encourage consumers to place the extinguisher proudly out in the open, where it is within easier reach to use quickly if needed. The minimal and attractive design allows the fire extinguisher to be placed in a more visible, high profile place in homes, without the ‘harsh’ red interfering with the interior decor. Consumers are prompted to enter the date of purchase and expiration date on the fire extinguisher’s body. Higher effectiveness of fire extinguishers in visible spots In short, fire extinguishers can be more effective if they are not hidden away in a closet or cupboard where valuable seconds are lost locating them in case of a fire. The idea is to unify style and function. Obviously, style is an undervalued element in the entire fire industry, given the affinity for less subtle use of red evident in everything from fire apparatus to web site names. Breaking traditional conventions Abandoning tradition may be creative, but don’t years of convention complicate the concept of changing the color of emergency equipment? For example, in the case of fire extinguishers, although primarily red, they also use color-coded labels to designate their type, such as blue for dry powder, yellow for wet chemical, etc. Also, fire pull stations, for example, are red, but pull stations for police emergencies may be blue instead. The colors have meaning that is understood to building occupants. Therefore, using new colors in public buildings could cause confusion, even if they contribute positively to the aesthetics of an expensive office suite, for example. Extending the concept of ‘Kanso’ to fire extinguishers Extending the concept of 'Kanso' to fire extinguishers has promise, as long as design does not interfere with safety The Japanese interior design concept of ‘Kanso’ is all about simplicity and focuses on the flow and movement of energy in a space. The concept seeks to eliminate clutter from a home and to show restraint and simplicity in every aspect of design. Extending the concept of 'Kanso' to fire extinguishers has promise, as long as design simplicity does not interfere with safety. The Good Design award jury states, “The simple modification of changing the color of the fire extinguisher to black and white is a big step forward in creating harmony with the living space.” Changes in style of fire apparatus and firefighting equipment The jury adds, “There has been a preconceived notion that fire extinguishers must be red in order to grab visual attention. We have just accepted fire extinguishers to be red because that is the way they are. Maybe an innovation like this can happen in other areas. The fact that the development of this product could lead to changing many other preconceptions we have was another important factor for the award.” Should everyone be looking for ‘Kanso’ to make its way soon to fire stations? Might a more positive flow of energy contribute to more relaxed and effective firefighters? Should fire apparatus colors be coordinated with station decor? Could it be that stylish fire extinguishers are only the beginning? These are some of the important questions in the development of new fire extinguishers and other firefighting equipment.
A wealth of data is used to track the course of wildfires and guide an effective firefighting response. Computers crunch the data using software and a computing infrastructure to yield information in the form of wildfire modeling and better situational awareness to guide fire service response. On the front line of turning data into useful information to advance fire science is the WIFIRE Lab at the University of California San Diego. The WIFIRE lab grew out of a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). With a primary goal of enhancing fire science, the lab also impacts operational fire response, increasingly in real time. Complex natural disasters “Wildfires are complex natural disasters that are caused by many changing systems like weather and landscape,” says Ilkay Altintas, Ph.D., WIFIRE Founder and Director. “Ongoing observations using modern technology and analysis of changes using artificial intelligence are helpful to augment fire science and response efforts.” The mission of the WIFIRE Lab is to provide a collaborative and transparent framework to bridge data, artificial intelligence and computing with fire science and its application to practice. “We are envisioning this framework to extend to the modeling and management of disasters beyond fires in the long term, such as floods and smoke plumes," adds Altintas. The mission of the WIFIRE Lab is to provide a collaborative and transparent framework to bridge data, artificial intelligence and computing with fire science and its application to practice Detecting smoke patterns WIFIRE Labs analyzes climate data such as wind speeds and direction provided by utility company weather stations Much of the work at WIFIRE involves automating processes and creating workflows ‘behind the scenes’ to crunch a variety of data, sometimes using supercomputers, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). The resulting ‘data assimilation’ provides valuable tools to advance the science of fire and to facilitate the work of firefighters. Among the goals is to provide ever-faster and more accurate intelligence, even for rapidly moving fires that have previously defied real-time computer analysis. WIFIRE Labs analyzes climate data such as wind speeds and direction provided by utility company weather stations, the National Weather Service, and the U.S. Forest service. Conditions such as moisture levels help to predict the course of a fire. Satellite imagery can detect smoke patterns, the hottest areas of fires, which areas are still burning and how they will likely continue to expand. Multiple weather forecasts Guiding WIFIRE Labs’ research is close collaboration with fire departments, including the Los Angeles and Orange County Fire Departments. They provide “Regular feedback about what they want out of the interface,” says Jessica Block, WIFIRE Associate Director for Operational Programs. “It is a direct product of close collaboration with firefighters.” “Being able to monitor our environment requires putting all the data together,” says Block. “Understanding how fires are behaving and changing the environment is important and available to the entire fire community.” A data portal and public interface is called FIREMAP. Fire agencies can request accounts and use the system to run predictive models to help with firefighting. For example, they can project the possible course of a fire based on multiple weather forecasts. Understanding how fires are behaving and changing the environment is important and available to the entire fire community Active fire perimeters The community knows there is a need for additional models to serve the need" FIREMAP is a decision-support and information tool that analyzes and visualizes data and makes it available to decision makers in a format that informs and assists them before, during and after a wildfire event. The map interface can show a variety of information such as active fire perimeters, weather conditions, wind direction, satellite images, local video camera views, surface fuels, etc. The currently used fire model is called FARSITE, but it was not designed for rapidly moving fires. “The community knows there is a need for additional models to serve the need,” says Block. For example, how are fire models different for fires fueled by surface grasses and shrubs versus those fueled in a conifer forest environment? Fire perimeter mapping The Fire Integrated Real-time Intelligence System (FIRIS) Pilot Program seeks to leverage enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to identify early onset fires using fixed wing aircraft equipped with aerial infrared (IR) computerized mapping. WIFIRE Labs is building a system that can enable the AI community to apply its tools to solving fire science problems The program provides better early intelligence, including initial real-time fire perimeter mapping within five minutes of aircraft arrival. Real-time intelligence from such a system is a game-changer. Data from historic fires aid in modeling future events. ‘Educating’ an AI system using historic data helps to inform smarter models for next year’s fires. WIFIRE Labs is building a system that can enable the AI community to apply its tools to solving fire science problems. The program provides better early intelligence, including initial real-time fire perimeter mapping within five minutes of aircraft arrival Advanced systems research For example, how can satellite imagery be used to better understand how vegetation has changed? The payoff from AI and other advanced systems research will likely happen in future fire seasons. Some of the fire systems use supercomputers such as the one at UC San Diego, or even systems in the cloud. However, much of the data is leveraged using everyday desktop computers. “We know how to leverage supercomputers when we need them, and how to take advantage of them,” says Block. “But we don’t use them if we don’t need them, and our systems are available to users and research partners.”
Understanding the underlying causes of wildfires enables us to control them better over the long haul. One element is climate change, which has created conditions prone to wildfires by increasing heat, changing rain and snow patterns, and shifting plant communities. But there are also other contributing factors in the growing scale and intensity of wildfires. One is the condition of the forests in Australia, California, and other areas where the incidence of wildfires has increased. In California, for example, it is well known that the forests are unhealthy and in need of more prescribed burns and other thinning efforts. However, given California’s 33 million acres of forest land, more than half of it publicly owned, even an ambitious effort like addressing the needs of a million acres a year would require decades to fix the problem. managing the landscape We as a society need to decide how we can restore our forests, and start a conversation about what that looks like" “We know that getting our forests back to a healthy state will be the most effective way to cope with fires in the future,” says Jessica Block, Associate Director for Operational Programs at the WIFIRE Lab at the University of California San Diego. “However, massive fires are destroying the ability of forests to recover." The goal is not to stop wildfires but to understand the role of fire as part of the natural processes of managing the landscape. “We as a society need to decide how we can restore our forests, and start a conversation about what that looks like,” adds Block. “We should think of forests as a system we live in, and a system that we should be able to live in. Understanding the system is the goal, so that we can make all the right decisions in the future.” identify and control wildfires Fires are eating up forests that are way too dense and that have way too many standing trees, and state and federal agencies alone cannot solve the problem. Furthermore, the stakes are literally life and death: Thousands will die, whether in the wildfires or from the effects of inhaling smoke. The negative impact on long-term health is impossible to measure. Especially troubling is the impact of wildfires at the so-called wildland-urban interface (WUI), where growing population centers border on wildlands at risk of fire. Current fire models are not designed for these areas, so more work is needed to address these specific risks. Almost everyone agrees that the solution is to identify and control wildfires at early stages before they get out of control and turn into huge fires that impact millions of acres. automatic detection capabilities Today, postings on social media are an early warning sign but may not identify the exact location of a fire New technologies are helping to identify nascent wildfires. One option is the addition of automatic detection capabilities to the AlertWildfire network of cameras that currently keeps watch throughout five Western states to provide early warning of wildfires. So far, human volunteers have been used to track the cameras, but automation is on the horizon. One application of machine learning is to detect a smoke flume. A critical element is the ability to tell the difference between smoke and clouds, which humans can easily differentiate but is difficult to automate. With machine learning, computers should be able to “learn” the difference. Soon, mechanisms will exist to detect the location of a fire via multiple inputs - web cameras, social media and satellite images. Today, postings on social media are an early warning sign but may not identify the exact location of a fire. Working together, the other tools can help to pinpoint the location. Alerts to fire dispatchers must be verified as real to avoid misuse of resources.
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are expanding their usefulness in the arenas of firefighting and fire prevention, whether in a downtown business district or in fire-prone wildlands. Among other benefits, drones can provide situational awareness, guide emergency response, and perform dangerous duties while keeping fire personnel safe. Drones provide a new solution for extinguishing fires in high-rise buildings, which can occur beyond the reach of fire nozzles and rescue ladders. Chinese autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) manufacturer EHang has announced a large-payload intelligent aerial firefighting solution for high-rise buildings. Urban fire stations With a maximum flight altitude of 600 meters (1968 feet), the EHang 216F can carry up to 150 liters (40 gallons) of firefighting foams and six fire extinguisher bombs in a single trip. A visible-light zoom camera on EHang can quickly identify the location of a fire. The vehicle then hovers precisely in position and uses a laser aiming device to shoot (in succession) a window breaker, the fire extinguishing ‘bombs’ and then a full-range spray of firefighting foam. The EHang 216F devices are expected to be deployed in urban fire stations to assist in firefighting within a 5km (3-mile) radius. Autopilot and centralized management technologies enable a fleet of the vehicles to be remotely dispatched for first response even before firefighters arrive. Multiple 216Fs can be deployed to rapidly extinguish a larger fire. EHang 216F devices are expected to be deployed in urban fire stations to assist in firefighting Fighting and preventing wildfires Drones are also finding multiple uses when it comes to fighting and preventing wildfires. One application is to drop self-igniting ‘dragon eggs’ that spark smaller fires to trim back overgrown forests and help prevent more destructive megafires. The dragon egg system is made up of self-igniting plastic spheres – about the size of a ping-pong ball. Dragon eggs have been an industry standard for years, usually dropped from planes or helicopters The spheres are filled with potassium permanganate powder and injected with glycol as an igniter just as they are being dropped. The reaction sets the balls ablaze after about 30 seconds, which is enough time for them to bounce to the ground through a forest canopy. Controlling the size and scope of a managed fire is simply a matter of how many balls are dropped. Dragon eggs have been an industry standard for years, usually dropped from planes or helicopters. Manned aviation activities Drones provide a new approach, directed the U.S. Department of Interior and the Forest Service. In effect, unmanned aircraft are being used to battle larger wildfires by setting smaller ones first. Another use of drones to set fires involves use of ‘flamethrower’ technology. The drone carries gasoline and shoots a steady stream of fire at vegetation or other targets. Aerial ignition using drones is aimed at supplementing manned aviation activities, not replace them, according to the Forest Service. In fact, there is a strong desire in the fire community to convert some of the missions to unmanned systems, considering the possible dangers involved. Drones can also fly better after dark and in dangerous, smoky conditions. Disaster response strategies The maps were used by search-and-rescue teams to spot missing persons in the area Directing disaster response strategies and mapping the type and location of wildfire destruction are additional missions for drones in firefighting. After California’s deadly Camp Fire in 2018, drones were used on 518 different mapping flights through smoky conditions and collected 1.4 trillion pixels of data, which were stitched together into maps of the destruction. The maps were used by search-and-rescue teams to spot missing persons in the area. Neighborhood homeowners could submit the imagery to insurance providers for rapid claims processing. The images also facilitated access to FEMA relief funds. Assess danger levels The benefits of unmanned vehicles have become obvious in the wake of out-of-control wildfires in Northern California and other Western states. Drones are particularly useful given how fast forest fires can get out of control and the danger to pilots and crew. Drones can be critical during the brief window of time between when a fire starts and when it gets out of control. Situational awareness from drones can help fire crews know how to respond, including the type and amount of resources needed. Drones can also assess danger levels and help to keep crews safe and going in the right direction.
Andrew and Nicola Forrest have committed 50 million Australian dollars (US$35 million) to the Fire and Flood Resilience initiative through Minderoo Foundation, with a goal of raising an additional 450 million (US$320 million) in direct or in-kind support over the life of the program. The goal of the ambitious investment is to make Australia the global leader in fire and flood resistance by the year 2025. It is an audacious vision that requires an innovative approach, and the organization takes inspiration from the U.S. Apollo mission of the 1960s. In effect, it will be a “moonshot” to advance the cause of preventing and controlling wildfires. Specifically, the first mission, Fire Shield, seeks to ensure no dangerous bushfire in Australia will burn longer than an hour by 2025. respond to wildfires The Flood and Resilience Blueprint further seeks to provide every community in Australia the skills and resources to cope with fire and flood disasters. Finally, it seeks to provide “healthy landscapes” by improving ecosystems to be “immune” to fire and flood disasters. Founded in 2001, Minderoo Foundation exists to arrest unfairness and create opportunities to better the world “We are not daunted by or afraid of taking on the toughest challenges,” says Karen O’Connor, Missions Lead for Minderoo Foundation’s Fire & Flood Resilience initiative. "Fire has a devastating and unfair impact on communities all around the world - and if we can help drive better approaches to prevent and respond to wildfires, we can have a profound influence.” Founded in 2001, Minderoo Foundation exists to arrest unfairness and create opportunities to better the world. black summer bushfires Minderoo Foundation stepped up after Australia’s black summer bushfires in 2019-2020 to help communities respond to and recover from the devastation. The organization also seeks to do whatever it can to mitigate the risk of large-scale damage due to bushfires and build resilience to future disasters. “We understand that fire and flood are critical ecological processes that enable many of Australia’s ecosystems to function, supporting regeneration and new growth,” says O’Connor. “Therefore, Fire Shield does not aim to prevent wildfires entirely but rather to prevent wildfires from becoming disasters.” ground truth data Fire Shield will progress using the “Mission” methodology that involves breaking down major problems into smaller elements that can be addressed in turn. Missions are outcome-focused and time bound. They rely on accurate baseline and ground truth data and an ability to measure impact to know when the mission has succeeded in its goal. Fundamental to the Mission approach is bringing the best people and expertise to the challenges at hand Fundamental to the Mission approach is bringing the best people and expertise to the challenges at hand - whether they are working in scientific research, in government, corporations or philanthropy. Having accurate data and measures are also essential. To that end, Fire Shield is working with partners to develop an ecosystem for data standardization and sharing in order to collectively leverage insights to address future hazards. emergency services “It is also about making sure that people working in fire and emergency services are provided with the right information, in a timely manner, to make the best decisions when responding to fire,” says O’Connor. An example is Fire Shield’s partnership with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council to support all Australian emergency services to develop new capabilities for fire detection, information sharing, fire simulation and response as well as utilizing data for improved decision-making wherever they are. fundamental principles “No matter what we do, Minderoo Foundation is always guided by the evidence,” says O’Connor. Minderoo Foundation’s Fire & Flood Resilience Blueprint has brought the best available evidence and expertise together to lay out a resilience blueprint for Australia and to inform the design and selection of missions, including Fire Shield. It challenges us to go right back to scientific principles and look for the best possible solutions” Importantly, the Blueprint is a “living document” that can evolve as the evidence base grows. First order problem solving is about going to the fundamental principles that apply to a problem, rather than thinking through analogies or accepted wisdom. “It challenges us to go right back to scientific principles and look for the best possible solutions,” says O’Connor. important resilience problems The initiative is committed to working collaboratively. To date they have secured more than 50 partners across corporations, governments and civil society - and they are always open to more. They are also actively looking to collaborate with international programs with similar goals, to ensure they can multiply rather than duplicate efforts. “We intend to share and publish our work widely, and of course continue to build collaboration, which is central to our approach,” says O’Connor. “We see ourselves as an enabler encouraging, facilitating and convening dialogue among different organizations and sectors of society to identify the most important resilience problems - and get to solutions faster.”
During the Grenfell Tower fire incident in 2017, ineffective fire doors allowed smoke and toxic gases to spread through the building more quickly than should have been possible. Sir Martin Moore-Bick made this finding in the conclusion to Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. It serves to highlight the importance that fire doors play in protecting life and property. Grenfell Inquiry findings The Grenfell Inquiry findings have impacted subsequent United Kingdom government guidance and proposed legislation. For example, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) insists that non-fire resisting doors should be replaced immediately with door sets that are third party certified as providing at least 30 minutes of fire resistance. The BWF works to increase ‘mass market’ awareness of the vital role that fire doors play in protecting life and property The British Woodworking Federation (BWF) works to increase ‘mass market’ awareness of the vital role that fire doors play in protecting life and property. The BWF sponsored Fire Door Safety Week (21-27 Sept. 2020) in partnership with the UK Home Office’s National Fire Safety Campaign, the National Fire Chiefs Council and London Fire Brigade. The observance is the brainchild of the British Woodworking Federation, supported by the BWF Fire Door Alliance. Importance of fire doors in protecting life and property While there are multiple types of fire doors available, certified timber fire doors were subjected to government fire tests in 2019 and were shown effective at meeting and exceeding the minimum burn time requirement of 30 minutes. Factors to ensure a fire door performs as intended include product manufacture, quality, installation and maintenance. Correctly specifying, maintaining and managing a fire door can mean the difference between life and death for building occupants in an emergency. Appointing ‘Responsible Person’ to inspect fire doors Everyone plays a role to ensure a fire door performs as intended, from the manufacturer to a building’s users. Building owners should appoint a ‘Responsible Person’ to check the performance of fire doors. Propping open a fire door keeps it from performing as intended in the event of a fire. Fire doors and other passive fire protection industries have common interests with other fire-related organizations. More education can help the whole building industry and every property owner to understand the importance of fire doors. Regular inspection of fire doors Owners should carry out checks at three-month intervals to ensure all fire doors are fitted with effective self-closing devices Sir Martin Moore-Bick also recommended that those who have responsibility for entrance doors to individual flats in high-rise building should be required by law to ensure such doors comply with current standards. Owners and managers of any residential building that contains separate dwellings should carry out an urgent inspection of all fire doors to ensure they comply with applicable standards. Owners and managers should also be required to carry out checks at three-month intervals to ensure all fire doors are fitted with effective self-closing devices that are in working order. Raising standard of fire doors via Third party certification Third party certification is the best way to raise the standard of fire doors and fire door sets across the board to ensure all fire doors in any building type meet safety standards. Also, inspections should be carried out by trained and registered professionals who identify any faults and highlight where doors do not meet standards. Doors in high-traffic areas should be checked more frequently as they are more susceptible to damage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new health challenges for firefighters, but it is far from the first major health concern in the fire service. For example, the risk of various cancers is up to twice as high among firefighters, and cancer causes 61 percent of line-of-duty deaths for firefighters. There are other health and safety concerns, too, from nutrition and fitness to vehicle safety and seat belt usage, from wellness to stress and trauma (and consequent issues of addiction). Supporting fire services Cultural issues are a driving force in managing the gamut of health and safety concerns for firefighters. Changing the mindset of firefighters about safety issues is critical to meaningful progress. It starts with awareness. COVID-19 may be the newest and most recent health concern, and addressing it has been a high priority. However, even long-term and well-known health threats in the fire service are not being adequately addressed. Dräger found that some 84% of respondents admitted they were concerned about the risk of cancer Medical and safety technology provider Dräger, based in Lübeck, Germany, has launched a ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign to raise awareness and to support fire services in driving the necessary cultural changes to protect firefighter health. In a survey of United Kingdom firefighters, Dräger found that some 84% of respondents admitted they were concerned about the risk of cancer, which can be caused by embedded carcinogens in any equipment that can be absorbed by men and women using it. Robust hygiene processes “The COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing fears over cancer, have highlighted the critical importance of hygiene, and a significant cultural change is required,” says Brian Hesler, a consultant and specialist advisor at Dräger Safety UK and a former chief fire officer. “We need to move away from firefighters wearing dirty kit like a badge of honor that proves their hard work and value, to understand that clean and well-maintained kit supported by detailed and robust hygiene processes are essential to mitigate every contact with contaminants.” Dräger’s Health for the Firefighter campaign will support the fire services in communicating and providing training on the importance of detailed hygiene processes, from handling and storage of masks and breathing apparatus (BA) equipment through to the subsequent cleaning of the kit after an incident has occurred. Enabling fire services Manual cleaning of equipment is still generally the norm within UK fire services. In the Dräger survey, 80% agreed that a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is more emphasis on cleaning equipment and hygiene control, although only 23% said the pandemic significantly changes their approach to cleaning equipment. Dräger has launched solutions for cleaning breathing apparatus, respiratory masks and PPE equipment Consistency is often a problem with manual cleaning, and Dräger has launched solutions for cleaning breathing apparatus, respiratory masks and PPE equipment that reduce the risk of carcinogen contamination within emergency teams. The equipment is provided in partnership with Harstra Instruments, a Dutch manufacturer of cleaning and drying equipment. The Dräger package of solutions comprises cleaning products, logistical support and consultancy services to enable fire services to mitigate firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens. Equipment handling operations Washing machines clean using high-pressure water, drying cabinets are available in various shapes and sizes, and testing facilities ensure products are decontaminated. “Employers owe their employees a duty of care and are therefore looking to provide additional protection during training, post-incident and in day-to-day equipment handling operations,” says Andy Taylor, UK Marketing Manager for Engineered Solutions at Dräger. Cleaning equipment is just one of many ways fire departments can address the health challenges for firefighters. Departments depend on regulations and policies designed to ensure the highest degrees of personal health and safety. For departments, prevention and reduction of accidents, injuries and occupational illnesses should be a way of life. The ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign can serve as a reminder of the importance of creating a culture of good health for firefighters.
An explosion of blue-colored smoke on Sept. 5, 2020 in Yucalpa, California, was the beginning of a large wildfire in El Dorado Ranch Park. The pyrotechnic device was essentially a smoke bomb designed to send plumes of pink or blue smoke rising into the air, designating the gender of an expected baby. The expectant dad had packed the target with a highly explosive substance called Tannerite and shot it with a high-powered rifle. The target was designed to explode in pink or blue to reveal whether the couple was expecting a boy or a girl. Flammable foliage When the device ignited, so did the dry, wild grasses growing up to 4 feet tall in the meadow at the park, 80 miles east of Los Angeles. In the peak of summer, Southern California foliage is extremely flammable, and there were already fires burning across the state. After being active for 11 days, the fire had affected 18,506 acres and was 63% contained. The family that sparked the fire sought to put down the flames using water bottles. Then they called 911. The responsible individuals were still at the park when firemen arrived, and there are also surveillance cameras. Wildfire Spread And Evacuation The fire spread from the park to the north on to Yucalpa Ridge that separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucalpa. The fire threatened a nearby residential neighborhood, and some 21,000 people were evacuated. After being active for 11 days, the fire had affected 18,506 acres and was 63% contained. The pyrotechnic show was a variation on the popular trend of gender reveal parties, which seek to announce the gender of an expected infant in increasingly (and competitively) colorful and/or dramatic ways. The parties are often featured prominently on social media. Rising temperatures Also contributing to the fire was recent weather in California, whose terrain was scorching in record-breaking temperatures as high as 120 degrees F in early September. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire) reminds the public that, with the dry conditions and critical fire weather, it does not take much to start a wildfire, and those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible. Natural conditions and human activity Natural conditions are central to causing wildfires, although human activity can provide the triggers Natural conditions are central to causing wildfires, although human activity can provide the triggers, including downed power lines, sparks from tire blowouts, and barbecues that get out of control. The pivotal gender-reveal part is just the latest example. If not for the increasingly dry and scorched conditions that make wildfire so easy to ignite, such human events would be much less consequential. With thousands of acres of wildfire raging across California, the cause of one wildfire seems less important in the overall scheme of things. However, the event does emphasize how seemingly minor events can have a very large impact. Lightning and fireworks Another cause of recent wildfires was lightning with more than 10,000 lightning strikes sparking 376 fires on Aug 16 and 17, 2020. In a season of wildfires, use of fireworks, for whatever reason, is a particular risk. Fireworks cause an average of 18,500 fires each year in the United States. Of those, about 1,200 injuries are from less powerful devices such as small firecrackers and sparklers.
It makes perfect sense that a horrific wildfire season would come in the year 2020 on the heels of a pandemic. Dozens of major fires burned across North America in September, including 85 large uncontained fires and six contained fires across 12 states. Active fires have burned more than 3 million acres already, and 41,417 fires have burned almost 5 million acres year-to-date. The severity of the wildfire season is on track to surpass the 10-year average. Better understanding wildfires Global warming is often mentioned as a contributor to the wildfires, but there are other factors, too. Increasingly, researchers are looking to apply new approaches in address the risk of wildfires. They include tools such as deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand wildfires and to control their intensity. The model could be used to reveal areas of greatest risk for wildfires A new deep learning model uses remote sensing and satellite data to trace fuel moisture levels across 12 Western states, in effect tracking the amount of easily burnable plant material and how dry it is. After additional testing is complete, the model could be used to reveal areas of greatest risk for wildfires and to plan the best areas for prescribed burns. Led by a Stanford University ecohydrologist, the research was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. Recurrent neural network The model uses data from the U.S. Forest Service’s National Fuel Moisture Database, which amasses plant water content information from thousands of samples. Using a ‘recurrent neural network,’ the system leverages the fuel moisture data to corroborate measurements of visible light and microwave radar signals from spaceborne sensors that are tasked with estimating fuel moisture measurements. Newer satellites with longer wavelengths allow sensitive observations about moisture content deeper into the forest canopy. Estimates from the model are used to generate interactive maps that fire agencies may one day use to identify patterns and prioritize wildfire control estimates. Researchers are also working to analyze the impact of better and more efficient firefighting on the size and frequency of wildfires. The theory goes: When firefighters extinguish smaller vegetation fires, a consequence is the creation of an environment where wildfires are larger and/or more frequent. Natural cycle of regeneration Older woods will naturally catch fire from the sun’s heat to make way for fresh growth The theory is based on the premise that wildfires play an essential role in the periodic regeneration of forests. Older woods will naturally catch fire from the sun’s heat to make way for fresh growth. However, more efficient firefighting can disrupt the natural cycle and, along with global warming, aggravate the broader likelihood of larger and more frequent fires. Researchers at the WiFire Lab in California and the University of Alberta in Canada are using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the environment and provide recommendations for prescribed burns that can save some parts of the forest without interfering with the natural cycle of regeneration. Providing early warning of wildfires Equipment operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) caused 2018’s Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history. Because of the threat of sparking a wildfire, PG&E this year shut off power to 172,000 customers in Northern California on Labor Day weekend, for example. A concern is the threat of winds tearing down power line or hurling debris into them. Southern California Edison (SCE), another utility, warned that about 55,000 customer accounts could lose power. California utilities SCE, PG&E and San Diego Gas and Electric are helping to fund a network of ALERTWildfire video cameras in California that will help to provide early warning of wildfires. Video cameras keep watch throughout five Western United States to provide early warning, and the number of cameras is growing fast.
Should firefighters and other first responders be exempt from requirements that they wear face masks to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? The City Council of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, seems to think so. They are proposing an amendment to exempt first responders from complying with the city’s face mask ordinance. Amendment to Exempt first responders from face mask rule Specifically, the proposed amendment states, “Exempted from the requirements of the ordinance requiring wearing of face coverings include law enforcement personnel, first responders or other workers, who are actively engaged in their tasks, if wearing a face covering may hinder their performance.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear masks in public settings The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear masks in public settings, especially when social distancing cannot be maintained. The CDC does not specify a need to exempt first responders. However, there is a possibility that a mask could interfere with the work of firefighters or first responders, especially when they are performing tasks that require physical exertion. Face masks can inhibit communication among first responders Face masks, covering the mouth and nose, could also inhibit communication by muffling sound and obstructing facial expressions. Obviously, communication is of paramount importance for firemen working as a team in an emergency, or when a first responder is seeking to give clear directions to the public. The issue of face masks has been inexorably entwined with the well-being of first responders, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on during the infection spread, health officials dismissed face masks as a tool to avoid spread of the disease. They said that the masks were ineffective at preventing community spread and that, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to be conserved for health professionals and first responders. Importance of face masks in controlling spread of COVID-19 However, the early advice was completely reversed in late March 2020 and masks have been advocated ever since. A mask, worn by an infected individual, reduces the dispersion of virus-laden droplets that spread the disease. Now, experts contend that any type of mask, including cloth or paper, can help to reduce spread of the COVID-19 virus. Expanding the use of masks to include those that are not conformant with the N-95 classification effectively eliminated any concerns about supply and helped to make the widespread use of masks the norm. To some extent, however, mask usage in the United States has been politicized and some see the requirements as an affront to liberty. Need for wearing face masks in public Masks are a useful preventative measure for firefighters working together in a communal area Fire and emergency departments face the same challenges as other businesses and institutions, as they seek to remain safe in a communal workspace. Masks are a useful preventative measure for firefighters working together in a communal area or when training or resting. Wearing masks in public also allows departments to model best practices and promote a positive perception of the department to the public. Disciplined use of face masks demonstrates unselfishness and respect for others. It communicates professionalism and concern for the greater good. Masks go a long way in saving lives of first responders Perception may also be an issue when it comes to the choice of masks, which become a de facto part of a uniform. Masks with political statements should be avoided, for example. Considering that dozens of American fire and EMS members have died of COVID-19 infection, since March 2020, the use of masks is another way that firefighters can work to save lives. However, sufficient flexibility is needed so that the use of masks does not interfere with other lifesaving duties.
The fire service worldwide collects a lot of data, and a university in Seoul, South Korea, is researching how to crunch the numbers using artificial intelligence (AI) to predict the probability of fires more accurately and to direct fire departments’ assets where they will do the most good. Students and faculty at Hongik University are developing AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms into a model that can predict the probability of fires and enable authorities to take action to make the city safer. The project has used the Microsoft Azure Machine Learning Studio, a Web portal for data scientist developers. The researchers ran various ML modules until they were able to predict fires with 90% accuracy. optimize patrol routes Analyzing data held by Seoul’s fire department, the researchers extracted information to identify which parts of the city have a high probability of fire. Data included information about causes of fires, their locations, and casualty numbers. To address privacy concerns about the data, researchers built a Microsoft virtual machine (VM), which keeps data secure and restricted to only a few individuals. The emphasis on privacy built a higher level of trust with the Fire Department providing data to the project. The information has enabled firefighters to optimize their patrol routes and deployments. In addition, the analysis looked at the locations of fire stations and spotted gaps of areas that were not adequately covered. deploy more fire crews The project is an example of how Seoul seeks to use the latest technologies, such as AI, to make the city safer Seoul’s development density makes it difficult to build a new fire station, but the information allowed authorities to deploy more fire crews to underserved areas from other stations located at the fringes. Having more fire crews on duty in neighborhoods more in danger of fire enables fire crews to respond to calls faster and therefore ensures the safety of people and minimizes property damage. One might suspect that older areas of the city are more prone to fire risks, but the ML model revealed that newer districts, such as Gangnam, are more susceptible to fire because there are more shops, more people in the neighborhood, and more illegal parking. The project is an example of how Seoul seeks to use the latest technologies, such as AI, to make the city safer while using resources more efficiently. data-intensive services The predictive model can also be applied to other city problems, such as crime, traffic and even wheelchair accessibility. Accessing data-intensive services in the cloud expands the scale of research processes and enables access to additional data sets to expand the scope of AI and ML projects. In addition to knowledge of statistics and code, students need to understand urban planning and how the city works, which will help them define specific problems and find solutions. Collecting statistics and information about previous fire incidents is a common component in the broader effort to fight fires all over the world. The use of AI and ML in Korea suggests new ways fire data can be leveraged to make firefighting more efficient and highlights an opportunity to apply the approach more broadly.
The biggest risk of property damage and injury from wildfires comes at the wildland-urban interface (WUI), which is defined as areas where structures and the built environment begin to intermingle with wildland vegetation. More and more such areas are being created as humans move near wildland areas to take advantage of their natural beauty and privacy. As a result, fire departments are fighting more fires along the interface, and there is a greater need for citizens living in these areas to be aware of the dangers of wildfires and to be prepared. ‘Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!)’ Program The ‘Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!)’ Program works to increase engagement by local fire departments with residents The ‘Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!)’ Program works to increase engagement by local fire departments with residents that live in areas at risk of wildland fires. A program of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ offers the tools and resources for fire departments to provide more understanding of the risk of wildland fires and the actions residents should take to reduce the risk. The program seeks to help residents to be ‘Ready’ with preparedness understanding, ‘Set’ with situational awareness when fire threatens and to ‘Go’, that is, to leave early when a fire starts. Enhancing situational awareness via notification systems The ‘Ready’ tenet focuses on establishing understanding of the wildland fire threat and how it can be mitigated. The ‘Set’ tenet focuses on heightening situational awareness through notification systems and warnings (such as Red Flag Warnings). The ‘Go’ tenet calls on residents to leave early and emphasizes that waiting until the last moment can increase danger and impede response. However, the RSG! program does not supersede state and local practices regarding how and when people evacuate an area. In the end, evacuation is a local issue. Wildland fire education efforts The RSG! program is complementary to and collaborates with Firewise USA and other existing wildland fire education efforts, including Living with Fire, Take Responsibility, FireSmart, Fire Safe Councils, Project Wildfire, and others. RSG! materials include ‘Your Personal Wildland Fire Action Guide’, a national video, PowerPoint presentation template, press releases, media article templates and local meeting handouts. The RSG! program materials can be adapted to local needs. Many states and localities have customized the materials by adding local department and agency logos, landscape pictures, and text about past fires. Wildland-urban interface (WUI) The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is not so much a place as a set of conditions that are conducive to spread of wildfire The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is not so much a place as a set of conditions that are conducive to spread of wildfire. Conditions include the type and distribution of vegetation, proximity of vegetation to other structures, climate and weather patterns, fire history, topography and access. Embers from wildfires can be carried by the wind more than a mile away. They are the leading cause of home fires resulting from nearby wildfires. Embers fall or are wind-driven into receptive fuels and structures, often going undetected. As the fire front passes, embers may ignite fires that spread from home to home in a neighborhood. Wildland fire programs Through the International Association of Fire Chiefs' wildland fire programs, the organization raises awareness of wildland fire risks by educating members, residents, landowners and managers, local officials and planners. The IAFC provides resources and information that support local departments’ outreach efforts and serve as a voice for local government on a national level.
Equipment is an important element in fighting fires, and in keeping firefighters safe. But what new needs are driving the development of equipment? How can equipment expand its role in fighting fires, or in managing building occupancy and traffic flow for that matter? We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the new trends and opportunities in firefighting equipment?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding the variety of technical capabilities deployed in the interest of public safety, and smart cities are leveraging IoT data to provide insights and improve operations. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is promoting technology development through its Science and Technology Directorate’s SCITI (pronounced “city”) solutions lab. SCITI stands for Smart City and Internet of Things Innovation. SCITI innovations promote public safety in urban environments to expand capabilities of first responders, including law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services, and the associated commercial sector. The initiative focuses on integrating new and existing technologies to serve public safety needs, with emphasis on validation and go-to-market support through industry partners. A streamlined process is aimed at getting new capabilities commercialized and available to users. Supporting first responders The program seeks to provide new capabilities to support first responders and the associated commercial sector in three areas. They are: Autonomous navigation for indoor Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to support search and rescue missions in difficult environments. Intelligent building sensors to be mounted on fixed indoor building features, such as smoke detectors or exit signs. Sensors provide a mechanism to rapidly prioritize areas for search and rescue. A body-worn interoperable platform (“SmartHub”) that integrates personal network communications with third-party sensors to improve situational awareness. Collaborations for development The program has been instrumental in developing and commercializing a number of products DHS Science and Technology is leveraging a “commercial first” approach by working with technology innovation companies, government public safety officials, infrastructure owners and private sector investment partners to promote the design, development and operational testing and evaluation of suitability for commercial adoption. The program has been instrumental in developing and commercializing a number of products. Improving communication is one area of development. For example, Zello, Austin, Texas, provides a push-to-talk smartphone app that is a low-cost, reliable and secure alternative to traditional radios. Wireless System Solutions, Morrisville, North Carolina, has developed end-to-end multi-standard/band wireless network solutions that provide connectivity from the macro cellular network to the end-point gateway and/or sensor. Emergency situational awareness To provide situational awareness in an emergency, Known Quantity Sensors Inc., Atlanta, offers an IoT edge sensor platform To provide situational awareness in an emergency, Known Quantity Sensors Inc., Atlanta, offers an IoT edge sensor platform that uses AI-backed, image-based processing to quantify and locate human occupancy. CommandWear Systems, Vancouver, British Columbia, provides a simple, secure, mobile situational awareness platform that runs on existing smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, laptops and desktop PC. The system enables users to prepare for events and incidents in advance, know where personnel and assets are, communicate with them securely, and then review and analyze a mission after the fact. Other solutions promote teamwork and collaboration. Mutualink, Wallingford, Connecticut, connect voice, video and information sources so any agency can talk to and share information with partners on-demand, providing instant emergency collaboration, situational awareness and coordination. Coolfire Solutions, St. Louis, Missouri, provides collaboration software that synchronizes data, content and communications to enable people to work together more effectively. Artificial intelligence Providing automation to operate in an emergency, Airgility, College Park, Maryland, provides multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicles that can conduct search and rescue operations or protect the nation’s borders, including onboard artificial intelligence. Thirteen companies in all were selected in the first phase of the program, and additional companies were added in Phase II. The SCITI solutions lab was created in collaboration with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, TechNexus in Chicago, and Smart City Works venture labs in Washington, D.C.
The global pandemic presents complications for firefighters during what will likely be an active wildfire season. Firefighting manpower could be diminished by the pandemic; training sessions have been cancelled, postponed, or conducted remotely. And travel risks undermine the traditional approach of calling on firefighters from throughout the country or around the world to help fight the wildfires. Social distancing is at odds with the teamwork and camaraderie that characterize firefighting units. Communal basecamps where everyone eats and sleeps together are unworkable during the pandemic. Instead, smaller camps are the rule, and packaged meals are delivered to each camp. Smaller teams reduce the need for widespread quarantine if someone tests positive for the novel coronavirus. Daily wellness checks Daily wellness checks ensure everyone remains healthy. Temperature checks, enhanced cleaning schedules and more personal protective equipment (PPE) are the rule. The toll of wildfires on air quality is a negative health factor for anyone suffering from COVID-19, or anyone at risk. Possible spread of the disease complicates the logistics of sheltering evacuees. Health counseling is done remotely, and cots in shared quarters are spaced further apart. COVID-19 Wildfire Guidelines Medical experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have developed COVID-19 safety guidelines for wildfire operations and recommendations for firefighter screening, testing and social distancing.COVID-19 also presents some of the same respiratory symptoms as wildfire smoke exposure Exposure to air pollutants in wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, likely including COVID-19, according to the CDC. COVID-19 also presents some of the same respiratory symptoms as wildfire smoke exposure – dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. The overall approach to fighting wildfires is being impacted by the pandemic. Since the early 2000s, the strategy has been to allow some wildfires to burn across large areas as a natural part of rejuvenating the forest. “Smokey Bear” Method Now, more fires will likely be extinguished quickly rather than risk them getting out of control when there may not be enough firefighters. Use of aerial firefighting will expand as a means to minimize the need for firefighters on the groundThis direct-suppression model – also known as the “Smokey Bear” method – keeps fires small enough to be managed by local resources rather than needing additional firefighters from other areas. Use of aerial firefighting will expand as a means to minimize the need for firefighters on the ground. The National Interagency Fire Center predicts that this year’s wildfire season, which extends from June to September, will see more wildfires than usual in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Because of coronavirus concerns, the U.S. Forest Service has suspended controlled burns, which are used to prevent larger wildfires. Dry weather this fall will make fires more likely to spread quickly. Wildfires in Urban/Suburban Neighborhoods Particularly of concern are wildfires in areas that border urban or suburban neighborhoods, the so-called wildland-urban interface. These situations are when homes (and lives) are most at risks. Fire officials and volunteers have historically helped homeowners address risks such as yards with dry brush, but this year the help is being offered remotely with video calls, which is a less effective approach. There is some optimism in the firefighting results at the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona in late May. In response to the first wildfire of the season, 399 firefighters were deployed. They practiced social distancing, wore masks, and slept in local hotels. Smaller teams of four to 20 firefighters helped to minimize physical interaction and virus transmissions. Zoom meetings helped with coordination. A medical officer was on site to ensure guidelines were followed. The final report judged the effectiveness of the protections and safety record as “remarkable.”
Crowd management can be critical in a fire emergency – or in almost any other emergency situation. The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) has undertaken a project to develop a computerized tool to provide data and situational awareness about crowds based on computer vision analysis of video. Crowds have become an unusual occurrence during the COVID-19 pandemic, but sooner or later, life will be returning to normal. When it does, the safety consequences of poor crowd management will again become top-of-mind for many in the emergency response fields. Preventing trampling incidents With AI Crowds can change rapidly during an emergency, and emergency responders must act quickly to respond to changes in crowd density, movement and other behaviors. Crowd dynamics can have tragic consequences in cases such as trampling or crushing incidentsThe FPRF project has developed a proof-of-concept framework for “data-informed crowd management and support.” The low-cost, open-source framework highlights collection, analysis, visualization and reporting of crowd movement to inform and direct crowd and evacuation strategies in near-real-time. Crowd dynamics can have tragic consequences in cases such as trampling or crushing incidents, violence, or if there are insufficient exits. In the worst cases, injuries and deaths can occur. A real-time crowd management tool can help to neutralize these potentially dangerous situations. Deep-learning computer vision and video image recognition (using artificial intelligence [AI]) are the technologies that enable the project. The tools can be applied to live video, to manage an event in real-time; or to recorded video to evaluate crowd activity as part of the event-planning process. The deep-learning capability is called congested scene recognition, or CSR, which both counts the number of individuals in a crowd and identifies their spatial distribution. Algorithms evaluate crowd movement Modern technologies and algorithms evaluate crowd movement over time in high-risk spaces. Users may upload a still image, and the tool will evaluate the crowd count in a given area. For a video feed, the system can capture individual frames at a user-defined interval (1 to 30 seconds) or manually. Crowd counts are then graphed and displayed to identify crowd density trendsThe model then evaluates the frame, predicts the count and provides a crowd density heat map within about 5 seconds. Crowd counts are then graphed and displayed to identify crowd density trends. Early trials have been promising, according to the researchers. The research project is led by the FPRF and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) with funding through a U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Fire Grant. So far, the proof-of-concept tool has been created, and testing this fall will evaluate how well it works on an array of venues, how well it estimates crowd counts, and the feasibility of full-scale implementation. A final report will include the programming code associated with the tool and guidance on how it can be implemented. Use of open-source platforms and general-purpose programming languages ensures the source code for the crowd management tool is freely available, and thus inexpensive. Anticipating behavior is crucial Researchers on the project note that crowds are not the problem, but rather the problem is incomplete understanding of the anticipated behavior of crowds and the inability to respond quickly. There are many variables, including the venue itselfThere are many variables, including the venue itself, and internal and external factors such as the purpose, organization and emotional nature of the crowd. The NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, includes regulatory requirement for managing large crowds. According to the code, crowd managers are responsible for understanding crowd dynamics, management techniques, and the venue’s emergency response plan, among other factors, according to NFPA. To prepare for large events, crowd managers must evaluate specific actions necessary for various situations, anticipated occupancy levels, the adequacy of ingress and egress, and expected human behavior.