Purdue’s firefighting robot rolled into Wednesday’s fire at the Hoopeston, Ill., tire shredding factory with something to prove. When it limped out four hours later, it was broken, but it made its mark.
“We were able to deploy this and put it approximately 150 to 175 feet into a partial collapsed warehouse facility,” Purdue Fire Chief Kevin Ply said Thursday morning as the department showed off the battle-tested machine. “From that location, we were able to apply water on some of the plant that was not accessible from other means.
“It did have an impact.”
The relatively small, 400-pound, orange robot travels on thick rubber treads and takes its marching orders from a remote control panel worn by the operator.
“Some of the firefighters, both volunteer and career, from the many fire departments that were there, were a little skeptical,” Ply said. “But, once we were able to deploy it inside the structure, they were able to see it in operation and the impact it was making on the fire, it was very impressive.”
Ply, along with two other Purdue firefighters, took their prototype firefighting robot to help fight the fire.
“We were able to deploy it in an area that had fire involvement, to the point where we had partial building collapse,” Ply said. “It was an area we were not going to put a human firefighter in, due to the risk of injury.”
Professor in Purdue’s College of Technology Eric Dietz is helping develop the robot for a Korean company. He says the use the fire department was able to get out of it was invaluable.
Read about safety & privacy issues & drones: here, here, here, here & here (this article has the best summary of the rules & issues)
This is an interesting video from camerajumper1 of one of those radio controlled tiny helicopters mounted with a camera doing a fly by at a recent strip mall fire in Los Angeles County, California.
People like Patrick Sherman and his partners of Roswell Flight Test Crew (click here for all of their videos) are among those pushing this technology as a tool for public safety. Most of us can imagine the very positive uses of an eye in the sky like this. Just check out the video below where the Roswell folks attach a FLIR to the little chopper for a view of a wildland burn.
But what about the unannounced visitor over your fire scene? I have no idea if the IC at the strip mall fire knew there would be a flyover, but how would you react if you saw one with no warning? Would you see it as a threat? If it were a mass casualty incident or a crime scene would that impact your view of this and how you would handle the intrusion from above? Would it be any different than a TV news chopper flying at a much higher altitude?
I don’t have the answers to these questions and I am not sure anyone does at this point. But I can tell you this. If I was still in the TV news business I would be pushing my bosses to buy one. I can see many uses and not just for a breaking news event.
And, if I was a fire chief, I would be looking closely how I could use this technology as a tool in my arsenal.
The quadcopters — square machines about the size of a laptop computer with a helicopter rotor and landing gear on each corner — are part hobby and part business for Portlanders Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne. Ideally, they hope to someday see the machines used by firefighters and law enforcement.
Saturday, for example, the quadcopters were able to fly into the smoke above the burning building and provide real-time video images of the fire. A public relations officer for law enforcement, Sherman also sees a number of uses for police.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) along with the the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Fire Chiefs Committee unveiled the subway system’s new battery-powered, portable response and recon vehicles today. The emergency management types at WMATA have been telling us for some time about this new capability and their efforts to train area fire departments on the use of the new carts.
We have posted four videos showing and describing the Mobile Emergency Response Vehicles (MERVs). Below, are clips of the vehicle being assembled and a ride on the rails photographed by 9NEWS NOW’s Greg Guise. At bottom, is raw video of the press conference with Arlington County Fire Department Chief Jim Schwartz.
At top, is the story for 9NEWS NOW by Bruce Leshan. That story includes Vito Maggiolo video and 911 calls from an April, 2000 incident where a train filled with 250 pasengers was sent to check out a report of smoke in a tunnel. They became trapped by an electrical fire. Bruce also wrote the article that follows:
Firefighters from across our region are showing off a new battery-powered rail cart that could make all the difference if there’s another Metro crash.
The $20,000 carts were designed in Britain to speed firefighters to emergency scenes deep inside the London Tube. The DC region is the first in the U.S. to get them.
Firefighters say there have been many incidents when they could have used the carts in Metro.
“We can’t breath!” a desperate passenger pleaded to rescue workers 10 years ago, while hundreds of passengers were stuck in a stopped train in smoky Metro tunnel.
“It took about an hour for the firemen to get there,” Susan Little told 9NEWS NOW.
Firefighters say the 26 “Mobile Emergency Response Vehicles” will help them speed into crises far faster.
“The other day, they put it together and had it going down the tracks in one minute and four seconds,” said one Arlington firefighter, as he watched the cart zip down a rail line at a Metro Yard in Alexandria.
Firefighters have carts now, but you have to push them. Loaded down in turnout gear, it can take them an hour to get to a scene. With the cart, they can go twelve miles an hour and get to a scene in minutes.
After the Sarin gas attacks 15 years ago in the Tokyo subway, British security officials asked rescue workers to invent a vehicle to get passengers out from deep under London in the tube.
The carts were used extensively after the terrorist attacks on the London subway in 2005.
Arlington Fire officials say they sure could have used one in a drill that had a train stuck under the Potomac between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom.
“In that one, it took 45 minutes to an hour to get to the victims,” says Arlington Battalion Chief James Daugherty, who’s been leading the project. “With a cart like this, five to ten minutes at most.”
In London, firefighters are actually drilled on driving the subway trains, so that if the operator is incapacitated in a poison gas attack, the rescuers can pull up in the cart and drive the train passengers to safety.
The carts were paid for with a $860,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
Must see video of a fire in the firehouse: Video from Defiance, Ohio where this fire occurred around 2:30 yesterday. The ambulance that caught fire was hooked up to a battery charger. Other city offices that are part of the building, including court, were evacuated. More details here and at FirefighterCloseCalls.com.
Don’t forget to check our player to the right where we are always adding new fire & EMS videos, including new clips of USAR teams in action in Haiti
UPDATE – 6.1 earthquake hits Haiti this morning: Word from Virginia Task Force 1 is that all team members were at the Base of Operations at 6:09 this morning when the large aftershock occurred. All are fine. (More new information below).
WUSA9.com’s Emily Cyr has been keeping on top of the latest news from Haiti this morning. Click here for our coverage. We will update you on any search and rescue team developments when we know them.
UPDATE – Another interview from Haiti and the Wednesday briefing: Virginia Task Force 1 participated in its 16th rescue last night. We have video in the player at right and in the link to follow of one of the crews recent rescues. It is believed the search and rescue teams in Haiti from all over the world have pulled out at least 122 people. More in our Wednesday briefing on VA-TF1.
Our old friend Mark Stone, who ages ago was a PIO for Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department, gave us a call from Port-au-Prince yesterday evening. Mark, retired from Fairfax and currently a lieutenant in Stafford County, is still a part of Virginia Task Force 1. Besides a happy birthday greeting for his wife Terri, Mark gave us more insight into the work being done by the teams and gave us a hint that the successful rescue last night was underway. Click here to listen to the entire interview.
USAR in the future: Firegeezer, always looking for the latest technology, has one from the search and rescue field. Check it out.
Photo of the day – driving the fire SUV: Not a fun time for one battalion chief trying to navigate flooded roads and mudslides. Check it out.
A slow motion version of the video of the fireball that engulfed Baltimore City firefighters has now been posted. The firefighter who was admitted to the hospital with burns following the rowhouse blaze last Friday is now home. Click the image to see the video.
That didn’t take long: Only three days after coming aboard as a probationary firefighter at the West Feliciana Fire District #1 in St. Francisville, Louisiana, 24-year-old Adam Carriere is under arrest for fires in a vacant bar and a vacant home just minutes apart. Read more.
Whatever Houston Fire Chief Phil Boriskie was thinking when he presided over a personnel confrontation at Station 54 between a beleaguered woman firefighter and her male colleagues, it turned out to be the equivalent of trying to put out a house fire by dousing it with gasoline. In the subsequent blowup Boriskie himself suffered first-degree administrative burns and announced Tuesday morning he was stepping down to return to the rank and file effective Friday.
There are other views on Chief Boriskie, including high praise from the union president. Click here and here for those stories. Assistant Chief Rick Flanagan is the interim chief starting on Friday.
Firefighter saves man after vehicle is hit by train: Last night in Huron, Ohio a firefighter pulled a man to safety from a burning SUV that just been hit by a Norfolk Southern train. Click here.
House fire in Pennsylvania: This fire in a duplex in Shenandoah Heights in Schuylkill County occurred around 4:00 Tuesday morning. Read more about the fire.
Hamilton County firefighters hate a communication system that taxpayers spent $35 million on because it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do when they’re in a burning building: Let them talk to each other.
The radio failures – which some firefighters say happen daily – played a role in the death of two Colerain Township firefighters nearly two years ago and local fire chiefs say if a solution isn’t found other firefighters’ lives are at risk.
The issued surfaced again last week when radio problems resulted in near miss for Cincinnati Firefighter Kevin Phillips who fell down a set of stairs, which knocked his helmet and air mask loose, causing him to become disoriented.
A transcript of the radio transmissions obtained by The Enquirer shows it took three minutes before fire command at the scene responded to the mayday call by Phillips’ partner, an eternity in a burning building, firefighters say.
Cincinnati Fire Chief Robert Wright did not return two calls for comment. Firefighters at the Glenway blaze say Wright met with them Tuesday, listened to their concerns and asked what would help them.
Hamilton County taxpayers spent $35 million on the digital Motorola system which was activated in 2003, replacing a fire radio system that dated to the 1940s and a police system that was nearly as old. The new system was hailed for allowing agencies to talk to each other, an impossibility on the old system.
But problems crop up when more than one firefighter tries to talk at once, resulting in firefighters getting a busy signal when they try to call and in garbled transmissions due to background noise like engines and burning buildings. In addition, metal construction blocks communication when firefighters are inside large buildings like downtown high rises or hospitals.
“We’re finding out this is happening every day, not just in big fires,” said B.J. Jetter, Sycamore Township Fire Chief and president of the Hamilton County Fire Chiefs Association.
“And not only with fire and EMS, but for police too,” he said. “It’s system wide.”
The issue came to the forefront in April 2008, when Colerain fire Capt. Robin Broxterman and firefighter Brian Schira died in a blaze on Squirrel’s Nest Lane. A review of the radio calls made during the fire showed the firefighters repeatedly made mayday calls, which were never transmitted.
“I don’t think the full impact or level of concern (about the issue) was realized until we were able to see the radio call log from the Squirrel’s Nest fire,” said Colerain Fire Chief Bruce Smith.
Broxterman’s parents are suing over the fatal fire, naming in the lawsuit among others, Motorola.
The problem became evident to all county public safety agencies during the Sept. 14, 2008, windstorm. All agencies were trying to use the radios at once. While that is an extreme situation, it locked up radios and prevented people from communicating.
County communication center officials questioned Motorola about possible fixes, but there isn’t a solution right now, the company told the county, said Mike Bailey, of the Hamilton County Communication Center.
“This is not an extreme emergency at this point, but it is a very big concern,” Bailey said.
A Motorola spokesman in charge of public safety for North America did not return a call for comment.
Cincinnati Fire department spokesman Capt. Michael Washington said the current system is better than the old one, and the department must work with what it has.
As the county grapples with what to do, Jetter said firefighters, police officers and the public are in danger. “It gives me heartburn that we have this situation,” he said.
Fire departments nationwide have reported problems with the digital radios.
The city of Phoenix has the same system, but when fighting a blaze the fire department uses the old analog system that transmits calls radio to radio, instead of through a computer system.
The International Association of Fire Fighters is now recommending fire department not use digital systems in fires.
“Radios are the most important piece of safety equipment a firefighter has,” said Richard Duffy, assistant to the president of the international union. “If you can’t communicate on the fire ground, you put yourself and others at risk.”
Duffy said Motorola should be held accountable.
Jetter said the problem is so bad it’s almost like having no communication at all. “We’re going back to the old days of using runners, where somebody runs in to deliver a message,” he said. “In an age of technology, this shouldn’t be an issue.”
Cincinnati Fire Union President Marc Monahan said last week’s missed mayday call “could have been really bad.” “We’ve had problems, we’ve pointed them out and nothing has been done,” he said. “Hopefully, this is enough evidence that will force some changes.”
The union plans to once again address the issue with fire administrators at the quarterly safety committee meeting Wednesday. Jetter said he’s not sure what the solution is. “We can complain all we want,” he said. “I don’t know how this gets resolved.”
It was not a topic we were very familiar with, but it is something near and dear to Al Studt’s heart. Al has brought this concern up following a number of other incidents including last week’s plane crash in Wheeling, Illinois.
Al describes himself as a U.S. National Grid advocate and instructor with 26 years in the fire service in New York and Florida. He is the PIO with Florida Disaster Engineers, Inc. He is also a Communications & Structures Specialist with FL-TF4 Urban Search & Rescue Team, based in Orlando and a lieutenant with Cape Canaveral Fire Rescue.
We asked Al to write up his thoughts on the subject so we could share them with you. He has done just that:
A major benefit to US National Grid (USNG) is that literally everyone can be on the same page; local Fire Rescue responders, dispatchers, EMS, law enforcement, Forestry, Emergency Operations Centers, out-of-area strike teams, National Guard, USAR, Red Cross, CERT, ham radio operators, Salvation Army, etc. Citizens could be easily trained how to use it. USNG coordinates can be used to reference locations with or without a GPS. If users have a GPS, they can relate their present position to a map. If users are issued a coordinate, they can find it. What does not work is Street Addresses in times when Street or Address designators are gone, obscured by smoke, flooding or instead are completely unfamiliar to the responding crew. Street addresses are also not relative to any off-road or wilderness emergency.
The fire service needs to take steps to implement US National Grid.
We finally know the most-likely cause of that horrible crash of a Maryland State Police helicopter.
The pilot, two medics, and an accident victim died a year ago –and just one teenager survived.
The National Transportation Safety Board is blaming pilot Stephen Bunker, who unexpectedly flew into a dense cloud bank, and then tried desperately to get below it.
He was looking so frantically for the ground that he ignored an altimeter that might have warned him he was about to crash into it.
But the Board also says a whole series of other mistakes by air traffic controllers contributed to the crisis.
“I wear the bracelet with everyone’s name on it,” says Jordan Wells, who was the only survivor. She’ll never forget the crash that killed her friend Ashley and three other people trying to rush the teens to a hospital.
“The look on Lippy’s face, then I heard something brush against the helicopter,” says Wells. “Then I blacked out because I broke this side of my face.”
Wells came to the NTSB hearing, hoping the long investigation will help save other lives.
“You can only hope,” she says. “You can only pray that it will fix things and make them better.”
“The probable cause of this accident was the pilots attempt to regain visual conditions by performing a rapid descent,” the NTSB’s David Mayer told the board.
It was a miserable night, and the pilot briefly considered refusing the mission. But based in part on five hour old weather data, he decided to go anyway. And that bad data was just one of the “numerous procedural deficiencies” the NTSB blamed on air traffic controllers, “…including unresponsiveness, inattention, and poor radar vectoring,” said Mayer.
Bunker had almost three decades of experience, but it had been a long time since he’d practiced an instrument landing.
And when he suddenly flew into heavy fog, he failed to follow procedures.
The NTSB is recommending that all public air ambulances be regulated just like commercial aircraft. It’s also pushing for formal risk assessments on every flight, and for new technology like night vision goggles and terrain awareness warning systems.
“We want to make sure when they’re going to save a life, they don’t lose their life, or risk other lives,” says chair Deborah Hersman.
The NTSB also criticized the Maryland State Police for its performance after the crash. It took some time for the agency to even realize the chopper had gone down — and then an hour or so to find it. If not for the heroic efforts of a couple of troopers, it might have taken hours longer to discover the crash scene — even though it was right on an electronic map at Syscom, but just hard to read.
The Maryland State Police says it has already corrected many of the problems, and is working on others. And the NTSB praised the agency for its cooperation.
Below are NTSB finding that deal directly with the search for the downed helicopter:
20. Had two Maryland State Police aviation employees not pursued their own search effort, locating the accident site would likely have taken several more hours than it did.
21. The incident commander’s lack of aviation knowledge diminished the effectiveness of search and rescue activities.
22. Maryland State Police troopers and System Communications Center personnel were insufficiently equipped and trained to conduct a search involving global positioning system coordinates, and this hindered their ability to locate the site of the wreckage.
23. Neither Prince George’s County nor Maryland State Police dispatchers fully understood the importance of obtaining distance and bearing information, as well as the cell tower location, before releasing a location obtained from cell phone ‘pinging;’ this lack of understanding led dispatchers to provide the cell phone tower’s simple street address without context to all units involved in the search. This distracted and confused units already searching a more likely location.
24. The Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control’s inability to produce timely location data also hampered search and rescue efforts.
25. Knowledge of the disjointed search and rescue efforts and the techniques eventually employed to locate the accident site could provide valuable lessons to agencies, such as Helicopter Emergency Medical Services dispatch centers, 911 dispatch centers, and fire, police, and sheriff’s departments, involved in search and rescue efforts.
Previous STATter911.com coverage of this issue here, here and here.
You likely have seen the video above at some point or another. Houston firefighters rescue a man trapped behind burglar bars in a burning home. I was caught on video through the helmet-cam worn by Captain Brad Stewart at Engine 15.
The Houston Fire Department has issued a rule for all firefighters that no helmet cameras are allowed. If any clip shows up online now that the rule has passed, firefighters say they know they'll face suspension or firing.
While those clips may show heroics, fire department headquarters is clearly moving to avoid the flip side of that coin. What happens if a helmet camera is recording when something goes terribly wrong? Even if it doesn't end up online, it could lead to liability for the city, or images that could scar a grieving family for life.
Ask any firefighter and they'll tell you that things always go wrong, even at fires that seem 'textbook' from afar. Nothing is predictable when a house is burning and crews are scurrying to deploy their training to put it out. Even when a seasoned firefighter encounters something that he's done a thousand times before, one tiny variable can send things into chaos at a fire.
The Houston Fire Department's new policy makes it a fireable offense to possess a helmet camera on the job. Any captain is responsible for making sure his team doesn't have one.
Several websites focus on displaying firefighting helmet camera videos from around the nation, but this new policy is aimed at making sure no Houston Fire Department videos are added to that collection in the future.