Tech Zone

Firefighting Technology Roundup: Wearable Tech, Diver Life Support, and More

In this firefighting technology roundup: Assisting innovators in bringing “wearable technologies for first responders” to market is the goal of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate EMERGE! Program. A prototype for diver life support developed by the U.S. Navy improves safety, accelerates deployment, and conserves helium. Water-fueled microrockets can neutralize chemical and biological agents used for bioterrorism. Scientists list chemicals according to potential exposure levels, most of which are currently unknown to scientists.

DHS: Wearable Technology for First Responders

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has recently introduced EMERGE! This business accelerator program was designed to obtain “innovative solutions to help the ‘responders of the future’ save lives and carry out their mission, particularly in the area of wearable technologies,” according to DHS/S&T. The program will encompass “body-worn electronics, advanced sensors, and integrated voice and data communications embedded in a responder’s gear,” explains the DHS S&T.

Dr. Robert Griffin, DHS deputy undersecretary for science and technology and a former firefighter and emergency manager, says a goal of the program is to reinvigorate federal government research and development by attracting “innovators who have ideas for the latest scientific advancements that can make a difference in helping these first responders.”

The program will provide early market validation, mentoring, and access to private investment so innovators can develop and launch their ideas into investable companies. The  EMERGE! program was developed in partnership with the United States Air Force Academy, the DHS Center for Innovation, and the Center for Innovative Technology. Additional information is at
http://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/accelerator.

Navy Scientists Develop Prototype for Diver Life Support

The U.S. Navy has developed a prototype for a new life-support system for divers, which is part of the Initial Response Diving (IRD) project. IRD is a Navy innovative science and engineering initiative to support faster recovery of objects in deep waters. The ultimate goal of IRD is to provide military diver intervention to depths of 600 feet anywhere in the world. The goal would put divers’ hands on targets for recovery within 36 hours of deployment.

The objectives of the system, developed by scientists at the Surface Warfare Center Panama City (NSWC PC), “are to accelerate the deployment of Navy divers; increase safety; and conserve helium, a valuable natural resource.” Reducing helium requirements will reduce deck space requirements and cut costs. “This new, semi-closed system was conceived to drastically reduce helium requirements,” explains NSWC PC Principal Investigator Dr. John Camperman. “And where possible, we have also incorporated proven technology in the system in order to speed transition to operators.”

The U.S. Navy mobile diving and salvage units currently meet their requirement for manned diving operations with the Fly-Away Mixed Gas System (FMGS), according to Camperman. He explains: “The FMGS provides breathing gas through an umbilical to a demand-regulated, open-circuit, diver-worn helmet. In each breathing cycle, all inhalation is from surface-supplied gas, and all exhalant vents to the sea. In the process, a large portion of oxygen and helium are wasted.”

Under the new system, Camperman continues, the current helmet and rebreather are modified.  In addition to a drastic reduction in helium consumption, he reports, “testing and analysis of the prototype system indicate that the full range of FMGS diving is supportable within Navy life-support requirements and that several life-support characteristics are improved, including extended emergency come-home gas duration.”

The IRD project could support life-saving rescues for survivors trapped in a capsized hull or subsea infrastructure; enhance disabled submarine assessment and escape; or rapidly recover sensitive debris from vessels, aircraft, or spacecraft. Additional information is at www.navy.mil/local/navsea/.

Warfare Agents Neutralized by Water-Fueled Microrockets

Scientists are developing microrockets that can neutralize chemical and biological agents that can be used for warfare. These spherical micromotors, which are fueled by water, are described in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.

According to Lead Researcher Joseph Wang and colleagues, titanium dioxide doesn’t require harsh chemicals or result in toxic by-products when neutralizing contaminants, but it necessitates being mixed with the solution that needs to be decontaminated. However, the researchers say, there is no way to actively mix titanium dioxide in waterways if they contain chemical and biological agents.

Spherical micromotors fueled by water can neutralize dangerous chemical and biological agents.

Spherical micromotors fueled by water can neutralize dangerous chemical and biological agents. Credit: American Chemical Society

Consequently, scientists have been working on methods for accelerating the decontamination process using titanium dioxide without having to actively stir it. Wang’s team sought to find an approach that does not necessitate the use of fuel and other compounds that hinder neutralization. The team coated titanium dioxide over a magnesium sphere core. When they put it in a watery environment, water entered through a single hole in the shell and reacted with the magnesium core, producing hydrogen gas, which bubbled out and propelled the titanium dioxide through the surrounding liquid. These micromotors more efficiently and rapidly contacted and degraded harmful agents. In tests, they successfully neutralized nerve agents and anthrax-like bacteria in less time than titanium dioxide microparticles that weren’t propelled. The research was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the University of California, San Diego.

Source: ACS NEWS SERVICE Weekly Press Package, Oct. 29, 2014. The Nano article, “Water-Driven Micromotors for Rapid Photocatalytic Degradation of Biological and Chemical Warfare Agents,” is at http://pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/full/10.1021/nn505029k. Dr. Wang may be reached at

Department of Nanoengineering, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, Email: [email protected] 

Mary Jane DittmarMARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’ degree in English/journalism and a master’ degree in communication arts.