The need for technology and innovation (and, of course, research—their foundation), always recognized by the fire and emergency services, has become even more urgent today. Firefighters are still dying in the line of duty at a pace of between 100 and 110 a year—many of these deaths attributable to the same causes year after year. Concerns about homeland security spawned by the advance of terrorism in the world and inside our country’s borders are still raging. The Oklahoma City Bombing, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and particularly the 9-11-01 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. have given new prominence to words such as vulnerability, preparedness, first responder, responder safety, homeland defense, and terrorism. These terms have been catapulted from the pages of dictionaries and perfunctory speeches into major national legislative and government agenda priorities and challenges; they have become dire concerns.

It would be difficult to overestimate the impact of seeing 343 firefighters from one fire department alone and thousands of other building occupants simultaneously perishing within the jaws of the burning, collapsing WTC towers. These events have affected all of us—from the fire and emergency services to local governments and state governments to the federal government complex to the civilians of our nation and countries around the word. These events have more vividly underscored the need for expediently adapting for our first responders information and products that already exist within our government/military complex and for new knowledge and ways to help prevent responder and civilian deaths and injuries.

Looking at the research agendas of the government, educational, and fire service institutions I consulted for this article, a relationship between firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) and terrorism be-comes apparent from the nature of many of the studies and projects.

One example is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Emergency Response Technology (ERT) program (described below). “Being able to locate and track emergency responders in structures is one of the most significant challenges facing us; it has been defined as the number one priority of the ERT advisory group,” according to Colonel Jim Ball (U.S. Air Force, Ret.), consultant to the ERT program. Detecting biological agents and locating and tracking civilians in structures are the second and third priorities.

Different technologies are being applied so that you can see through the walls of a structure and communicate through the walls with data and voice, Ball explains. About eight 3-D responder locator systems are in development, Ball notes. He anticipates that, within a year, one or more prototypes may be available for testing by fire departments, haz-mat teams, and urban search and rescue teams.

The need for updated research and information was also articulated in the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) Reauthorization Act of 2003, to which the Firefighter Research and Coordination Act (S. 321, H.R. 545) was attached. The introduction to S. 321 stated the objectives as follows: “to provide for the establishment of a scientific basis for new firefighting technology standards; improve coordination among Federal, State, and local fire officials in training for and responding to terrorist attacks and other national emergencies; and for other purposes.”1

Also, FDIC 2004 featured “Working for a Safe America—Research in Support of the First Responder,” presented by William S. Troup, USFA fire program specialist, which highlighted the agency’s most recent research projects and initiatives.


The following is an overview of some of the agencies involved in research programs. Some recent accomplishments and ongoing technology-related projects are presented after this section. This list is by no means complete. More work is underway, much of which cannot yet be publicly discussed.

The Emergency Response Technology (ERT) Program2

Established in 1998 to develop and execute an active, broad-based program for commercializing new health- and safety-related products for the emergency response community, the ERT was established under a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant. The ERT currently receives additional support and funding from the DHS and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The ERT is administered by the National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC), which helps federal agencies identify commercially promising discoveries and market them. The NTTC is located on the campus of the Wheeling (WV) Jesuit University.

The ERT Advisory Group, comprised of representatives of the major fire associations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, and others, identifies areas of need within the emergency response community. The ERT searches for solutions for those needs—”products that will keep firefighters and emergency responders safe on the job,” according to Mike Lucey, ERT manager.

The ERT program works with federal laboratories, universities, and private industry on research and development technology projects and coordinates with the InterAgency Board on Standardization and Interoperability, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL), the DHS, the Department of Defense (DoD), and other agency development programs.

Where appropriate, the ERT program conducts operational tests and evaluations on prototypes and new products using emergency responders from prominent fire departments, haz-mat teams, and USAR teams. These test results are on the ERT Web site at


In recent years, NASA aerospace technology has been applied in the following areas: portable firefighting modules; protective outer garments for working in hazardous environments; fire retardant paints and foams; fire blocking ablative coatings for outdoor structures; shearing tools for rescue; flame-resistant fabrics for the home, office, or public transportation vehicles; and wildland firefighting. (See “NASA: Wildland Firefighting Technologies” on page 86.)

In April 1995, the Chicago (IL) Fire Department (CFD) and NASA jointly worked to assess how aerospace technologies could improve firefighting and other emergency services. One project involved the development of a system for locating, tracking, and (if necessary) rescuing firefighters within a 2,400-foot radius of operations. Another initiative pertained to adapting dynamic structural analysis techniques to determine if a structure in imminent danger of collapsing demonstrates “signature” changes before collapsing. Other CFD-NASA ventures include the developing of a less expensive, lighter-weight portable firefighter air breathing apparatus with a longer use life; identifying the areas of origination of 9-1-1 calls made on cellular phones; and developing the capability to warn hearing-impaired drivers of an approaching emergency vehicle.3

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

NIST, a national research laboratory of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Technology Administration, provides measurements, conducts research programs, and develops standard test methods and computer models to assist federal, state, and local agencies as well as the private sector in protecting U.S. citizens from fire, natural disasters, and other types of threats.

Current programs aimed at protecting first responders involve protective clothing; improved communications; enhanced detection of chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive threats; improved fire safety standards; and development of firefighter training aids.

NIST augments its base program with research sponsored by the DHS, the USFA, the DoD, the General Services Administration (GSA), the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as a means of leveraging basic research into practical results for the fire community.

In addition, NIST has several programs for assisting private-sector companies in the development of technology for the fire service. Current projects are focused on improved fireground communication and firefighter location systems and technology to predict structural collapse. More information can be found at

National Protection Center (NPC)4

As a result of technology-transfer and post-Oklahoma City Bombing national initiatives, the NSC entered into a partnership with NASA and the NIJ Office of Science and Technology, founding the NPC in 1999. Since then, the NPC sponsors and executes research, development, testing, evaluation, and commercial promotion of advanced/multi-threat protective clothing and equipment for military and civilians in high-risk occupations or working in extreme environments. Its focus now is on homeland defense and security operations.

Rita Gonzalez, director of the NSC’s NPC, explains that “the Center focuses on, among other things, research, development, testing, and evaluation of technologies and integrated systems and supporting federal policy forums to address the effective planning, vetting, and execution of system integration efforts that will in the long term offer improved personal protective and mission enhancing, human-based systems (lighter weight, multi-threat protective materials requiring fewer layers of materials).”

DoD projects such as Land Warrior and Future Force Warrior, Gonzalez explains, offer the non-DoD user the “possibility of adopting the principles of system integration and human-borne technologies, where the human operator is the center of mass for homeland security and public safety operations.” To operate effectively and safely, the user, she points out, must be able to interoperate effectively with the system—”all pieces of the response puzzle such as vehicles, command and control centers, and other responders.” She cautions, however, that the transition of technologies or adoption of new capabilities involves more than pulling together technologies, placing them on the user, and expecting them to work effectively. “NPC is a champion for shortening the learning curve for those efforts promoting multiple-threat protection/multi-capability systems for emergency responders,” she adds.

For the longer-term (three-, five-, 10-, and 15-year work phases), products that would provide enhanced capabilities such as body-worn computers, electronics, and global positioning systems are under consideration.

The NPC serves as a focal point for the DHS in conducting side-by-side testing and evaluation of technologies. Within the next year or so, it will test multiple projects related to geographic location and tracking side by side, rank them, and offer guidance relative to when and how the systems work. This information will be included in a report that will go to the DHS. “And,” Gonzalez notes, “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”


The USFA has adopted operational objectives that include reducing the loss of life from fire over five years, employing strategies that focus on the 14-year-old and younger population group (reduce deaths 25 percent over five years); the 65-year-old and older population (reduce deaths 25 percent over five years); and firefighters (reduce deaths by 25 percent over five years).5

The USFA has formed partnerships with many agencies and organizations, including the following, to work toward these goals.

  • American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA). This joint venture is focusing on improving the fire service’s awareness of the performance of lightweight building construction components during fires.
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Research areas include a review of testing methods, new technologies, and standards for smoke alarms, smart stove technologies, and fires associated with fuel-fired room heating products and electrical home wiring.6
  • Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Ser-vices (FICEMS). The USFA chairs and administers this committee, which serves as a forum to establish and facilitate effective communication and coordination between and among federal departments and agencies involved in EMS-related activities. The FICEMS coordinates federal policies and programs, eliminates duplication of efforts, promotes uniformity of standards and policies consistent with existing federal laws and regulations regarding EMS, and maintains a liaison with national EMS trade and professional organizations.7
  • NIST. Areas of research have included firefighter protective clothing; structural collapse prediction technology; fire sprinkler projects involving college dormitory fire safety, limited-area fire sprinkler systems, and sprinkler activation under sloped ceilings; thermal imaging cameras; personal alert safety systems (PASS); fire hose streams; structural ventilation techniques; re-creating fire burn patterns for fire cause determination; and integrating research results into the NFA training programs.
  • Residential Fire Safety Institute. This consortium of public and private-sector organizations includes the National Association of State Fire Marshals. The objective is to improve fire safety through advocating built-in protection including smoke alarms and automatic sprinklers in residential occupancies and public education.
  • U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) Intelligent Trans-portation Systems Joint Program Office. As part of this partnership with DoT, a study on Non-Blinding Emergency Vehicle Emergency Lighting Systems has been initiated with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Additionally, the Fire Service Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative promotes behavior and develops technologies that would decrease the number of emergency vehicle crashes and related loss of firefighters lives. (Almost 25 percent of LODDs for the past couple of years have occurred in vehicle-related events.) The USFA will soon release a report detailing the findings of the initiative.

As a follow-up to this project, the USFA has developed separate partnerships with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) to develop programs directed toward their specific constituencies on implementing the findings of the Fire Service Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative. Related to the topic of emergency vehicle safety, the USFA recently published the “Safe Vehicle Operations of Fire Tankers” manual.


(The developing agency is in parenthesis after the product name/category.)

  • Communications.

—Automated Reconfigurable Intelligent Radio (ARIR) (NIST). Under development, this firefighter radio would serve a node in a network that can relay voice and data transmission within a building. The system will control the network reconfiguration, which can expand or contract on demand; use redundant sub-systems to improve reliability; and be able to extend into damaged areas of unknown infrastructures.

—Fireground Personnel Location and Communication System (NIST). As an Advanced Technology Program, NIST is co-funding a $9.9 million effort by Motorola and Xtreme Spectrum, Inc. to develop an ultra-wideband (UWB) Personnel Radiolocation System. The objective is to track individual emergency responders to within one to two feet inside a building in hostile indoor environments. UWB radio is less sensitive to interference and signal degradation than other radio frequency solutions and offers high-precision resolution and good penetration through walls and floors. The project is scheduled for completion in Spring 2005.

—Incident Commanders Radio Interface (ICRI) (ERT). This communications switch uses operator-supplied portable or mobile radios to provide interfaces between incompatible radio systems and can be used as a radio-interconnect to phone systems. It was evaluated in June 2003 by Virginia Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team communications team members at the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Training Center. The ICRI allowed connection to other agencies or operations with little setup time or knowledge of communications. All tests on usable radio/phone systems provided good reliable communications. Several tests were conducted on audio quality, ease of setup, and usability. ICRI has been on the market for about a year now.

—Tactical Decision Aids (NIST). NIST has a multifaceted program to develop means for using fire sensor and other building sensor information to enable first responders to have greater situational awareness under emergency conditions, to assist in the tactical decision process. The research is focused on getting information from stationary or portable sensors within structures to remote locations outside the structure, such as mobile data terminals in emergency response vehicles. NIST is collaborating with the National Elec-tronics Manufacturers Association and the NFPA to develop standards for a graphics-based annunciator panel and the ability to transfer information on the hazard, the location of the hazard in the building, and the time history of the change of hazardous conditions to an incident commander (IC).outside the building.

NIST has also funded a project for the development of a Smart Environmental Monitoring System (SEMS) to provide improved fire data to ICs by way of the building’s alarm panel/network system. Data would be collected on the thermal radiation, smoke, and gas temperatures in the building.

—Time-Modulated Ultra-Wide Band Technology (ERT). The ERT is working closely with the Air Force at the Human Systems Program Office at Brooks Air Force Base on this technology to locate trapped victims in collapsed structures and rubble, according to Col. Ball, who reports “good results” are anticipated within a year to 18 months.

—VitalSenseT Physiology Monitoring System (ERT). Members of the Fairfax County Fire Department Haz Mat team tested the system at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy. Two responders wearing Level A chemical protective clothing tested the equipment signal quality and data degradation while operating in structures, buildings, tunnels, and other areas. Tester responders operated in and around a six-story masonry training tower, testing signal quality and data degradation while operating on a simulated pressurized tank car dome release. Crews entered and searched a simulated derailed Amtrak passenger car.

Four parameters or channels were used during all tests: heart rate, skin temperature, motion sensor, and ear canal temperature. The system provided appropriate health parameter information to determine if an emergency responder had reached health and safety threshold values. The system operated satisfactorily within the specified operational environment. The units were not tested for water intrusion and immersion. The system is now available for purchase.

  • Hazardous Materials

—Bio-Containment System™ (ERT). Lieutenant Rick Rochford, a member of a fire-rescue and a haz-mat unit and an instructor in chemical and biological sampling techniques, proposed this self-contained kit for collecting and transporting samples taken at a haz-mat scene. Available for purchase.8

—The HazMat Smart-Strip (ERT). Developed in early 2003, it detects hazardous chemicals including arsenic, cyanide, sulfides, and nerve agents. Available for purchase. 9

  • Personal Protective Clothing

—Boots (Natick-NPC). This insulated boot for military and civilian personnel features elastic-fit design and passive (automatic) fit adjustment capability. The inner elasticized bootie is made mainly of expanded neoprene foam; a nylon fabric, laminated on one side, is permanently attached inside the boot. The bootie’s mid-foot area is approximately three sizes smaller than the rest of the boot. The boot’s three sizes (small, medium, and large) were expected to meet the needs of the populations using it (see below). The boot offers improved ankle support. An air barrier between the bootie and the outer shell enhances insulation. The boot also will allow less water (weight) to enter the boot in flooding conditions, and the inner materials will expedite drying time for the inner layer and reduce wearers’ fatigue.

A prototype was produced at LaCrosse (WI) Footwear. Testing is being conducted at the Naval Educational Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island. The boot is being modified in the areas of being able to withstand extended submersion and the adjusting of sizes to fit users with larger sizes. [The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires the Navy to provide a firefighter boot that will accommodate shoe sizes 5 to 13.]

The team is also considering ways to apply an antimicrobial finish to the inside of the boot to make it lighter, enhance mobility, and reduce fatigue. Other design modifications under consideration include adding reflective material to the toe and heel areas for improved visibility in dark or smoky environments and a sole tread design that will improve traction in marine environments. For boots used for wildland firefighting, the objective is to have replaceable soles or soles that can be adjusted to the terrain, eliminating the need to replace the entire boot, according to Gonzalez. She expects the boots to be finalized and available “in the short term.”

—Chemical, biological, toxin protection (Natick-NPC). In the near term, NPC is assessing, among other projects, the viability of technologies that could be used to provide baseline chemical/biological agents and toxic industrial chemicals/toxic industrial materials protection without fully encapsulating nonhaz-mat users and evaluating the impact of incorporating technologies on the user. The impact of integrated/multifunctional systems on the commercialization of protective ensembles, standards, and cost are being addressed concurrent with the many research and development efforts to ensure the most expedient transfer to the market and keep these protective systems viable and cost effective for the end-user.

—Cooling system (Natick-NPC/Soldier Center/Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism). This three-year, $3 million project involves designing and constructing a personal cooling system that will incorporate the new adsorptive carbon-based cooling technology for working in environments affected by chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The portable integrated cooling system will include a liquid-circulating garment developed at Natick and powered by a battery for a one-hour mission. The project’s status is evaluated at meetings held every few months.

—Micro-Climate Cooling Systems (Natick-NPC). A market/technology assessment is being conducted for the DHS Office of Domestic Preparedness. This project is an important step in having an “independent experienced government agent” assess the products marketed to the end-user and offering the DHS much needed analysis that will be used in the grant and procurement process, according to Gonzalez.

—Thermal Protective Properties (USFA-NIST). The projects involved developing effective equipment and techniques for evaluating thermal environments experienced by firefighters and the thermal performance of firefighter protective clothing. The thermal conductivity of a representative cross-section of materials used in structural firefighting PPE in dry and wet conditions was evaluated, including the effect of compression that would simulate real-world use. The ultimate objective was to build a model that could be used to design and develop firefighter PPE and train firefighters to understand the capabilities and limitations of their PPE under a variety of thermal conditions. An initial report, “A Heat Transfer Model for Firefighter’s Protective Clothing,” on this project is available at safety/nist9.shtm/.

Author’s Note: According to an AP newswire story in early March, a vest, reportedly developed by a U.S. manufacturer, that would allow the wearer to leap from high-rise rooftops without being injured has been purchased by the Israeli Air Force. The vest reportedly has a 200-yard cable on one end that attaches to the roof and gently unwinds as the wearer jumps to safety, enabling him to land safely. My efforts to confirm this report or find information on the U.S. manufacturer were unsuccessful. But, such technology surely would be beneficial when fighting high-rise fires and attacks such as those on the WTC.

  • Locator Systems

—Ground penetrating radars (ERT). Col. Ball says two systems originally intended for different purposes were tested for their capability to detect living casualties in various rubble situations. The systems were tested at the Fairfax County (VA) Training Facility Rubble Pile by Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams. Both Virginia Task Force 1 and California Task Force 2 participated in the testing of the second system. Neither system proved satisfactory for use, Ball explains, but the research showed that the technology had the potential to be improved to meet the objective of locating living casualties in rubble. The two test reports are on the ERT Web site.

  • Safety Systems

—Monitor for Risk of Structural Collapse (NIST). Based on research conducted in concert with the USFA/NIST program on predicting structural collapse, NIST has funded two efforts to further develop a device that will monitor structural integrity based on an analysis of structural vibrations. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, developed the algorithmic analysis of the accelerometer data to provide the warning of an impending collapse. A company has developed a prototype under a NIST grant. The device will be delivered to NIST for further evaluation later this year.

  • Training Aids

—The Cherry Road Simulation CD (NIST). This includes a re-creation of the multiple-fatality fire that occurred at 3146 Cherry Road, Washington, D.C. on May 30, 1999. At the request of the District of Columbia Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department Reconstruction Committee, a team from NIST-BFRL visited the fire scene, documented critical dimensions, and collected samples for additional materials property characterization. The team entered the dimensions and materials’ thermal properties into the Fire Dynamic Simulator model and then used software to display the model simulation for the investigating committee.

The reconstruction committee combined the model output with the fire service timeline and other fireground data, enabling investigators to better understand the fire’s behavior and how the firefighter fatalities occurred.

The NIST team simulated several alternate “what if” scenarios to illustrate how firefighters could avoid similar situations in the future. The team packaged still figures and animated images of the simulation with all the timelines, floor plans, and material properties into the CD. Since release of the CD, fire departments have requested more than 15,000 copies. EENET, the FEMA satellite broadcasting station, has produced a program based on the Cherry Road incident.

NIOSH has requested that the BFRL team assist with their investigations by reconstructing several fire scenes, including multiple-fatality fires in Iowa and Texas. NIST is currently working on three other line-of-duty-death incidents involving a training fire, a high-rise fire, and a hardware store fire.

The CDs for Cherry Road, Iowa, and Texas are available from Daniel Madrzykowski, NIST, Fire Research Division,; information is also available at

—Lightweight construction materials (USFA-AF&PA). The AF&PA represents companies that make more than 80 percent of the paper, wood, and forest products produced in the United States. Through this partnership, the USFA is developing nationally applicable educational and demonstration materials that will enhance firefighters’ awareness of how different forms of lightweight construction components such as trusses, glue-laminated beams, I-joists, structural composite lumber, and wood structural panels perform in fires. The USFA will work with national and selected state and local fire training systems to develop educational materials to enhance firefighter awareness of the performance of lightweight construction during fires and its impact on fireground safety. Lessons learned from fire incidents and their impacts are also to be examined.

Through this partnership, NFA course materials will be reviewed and updated to include the most current information regarding the fire safety building performance of different types of lightweight construction components and their impact on fireground operational safety.10

—Standardized Disaster Models. NIST is working with other government researchers, industry software experts, and emergency response leaders on an electronic “Emergency Response Framework” that would create computer modeling and simulation programs for all levels of emergency responder decision makers. Ultimately, this framework would present state-, local-, and national-level decision makers with a comprehensive menu of easily accessible modeling and simulation programs for understanding the extent of various threats, training on mitigating damage to life and property, and coordinating emergency responses to actual events.

—Structural Collapse Prediction Technology Research (USFA/NIST). As part of this project, a report on “Trends in Firefighter Fatalities Due to Structural Collapse 1979-2003” was completed, to demonstrate the need for improved technology and fireground safety to minimize LODDs. It is available at Research is listed under “live fire testing.”

—Ventilation Techniques (USFA-NIST). Positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) and natural venting were studied in an effort to construct a model firefighters could use as a training tool for understanding the capabilities and limitations of PPV. The research involved using full-scale fire experiments with and without PPV and incorporated Computational Fluid Dynamics fire modeling to provide a technical basis for improving training on the effects of ventilation on fire behavior.11


Comparative studies of various technologies are also underway. Among them are the following:

  • Decision Support Systems for recognizing hazards and acquiring other types of information needed to make first responder decisions (ERT). Comparative evaluations of four types of commercially available systems were just completed at press time. The tests, conducted in cooperation with the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department and the Virginia Task Force 1 USAR Team, assessed the level of friendliness for the end-user, according to ERT program manager Lucey. The systems include resource guides and software that can be downloaded onto Palm PilotsT and other computerized devices. The final report will be available at

  • Thermal imaging systems (USFA-NIST/ERT). A key goal of this project is to contribute information toward developing a national standard for design, performance, and operation. Fire service representatives attending the May 1999 Fire Research Needs Workshop conducted by the USFA-NIST cited the need for better evaluation standards, training, and understanding of the capabilities of these systems. Issues such as differential resolution, thermal exposure, performance during suppression, ease of use, and the like will be examined, as will remote transmission of images to the IC. A variety of commercially available TICs will be tested in the NIST BFRL under various conditions, including controlled exposure/response in ovens, underventilated or smoldering conditions, overventilated or flaming fires, and humidity chambers. The cameras will also be exposed to full-scale burns in furnished rooms in the fire facility and in the field. New technology that might enhance performance of future thermal imaging devices will be considered, and a prioritized plan to incorporate new technology into enhanced infrared cameras will be developed.

    • Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS) (USFA-NIST). Exploring new technology that might enhance the performance of future PASS devices and developing a prioritized plan to incorporate new technology are addressed. Well-controlled bench-scale laboratory experiments and live-fire operational testing will be used. Among the objectives would be improved sensing of hazardous thermal exposures; reduction or elimination of false activations; improved accuracy; and the incorporation of added technologies such as global positioning systems, firefighter location features, fireground accountability, gas analyzers, and physiological or stress monitors. The research results will be integrated into national consensus standards. The report will be available at www.bfrl.nist in June 2004. Even though the NFPA 1982 standard for PASS devices requires only a motion detector, some PASS device manufacturers are beginning to incorporate additional technology, such as that related to thermal exposure, into these devices. The protocol would include examining how different fire conditions affect the performance of thermal sensors. A standardized testing protocol would allow manufacturers to match their devices’ performance with the fire service’s requirements.

    • Smoke Alarms (USFA-CPSC-NIST). Testing methods, new technologies, and standards will be reviewed. Tests performed in the 1970s will be reassessed for validity. Other agenda items include identifying new detector technologies for enhancing detector reliability and reducing false alarms; determining the applicability of current NFPA and Underwriters Laboratories standards; and methodologies for developing more realistic testing methods, which, in the past, were researched by a consortium of manufacturers. The full report is at

    • Building materials (NIST-BFRL). Research involves increasing structural integrity through the development of performance criteria for codes and standards, tools, and practical guidance for the prevention of progressive structural collapse. Guidance on methods to enhance fire resistance of steel and concrete structures based on the current state of knowledge is also being developed.
    • Elevators (NIST). In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. fire experts have begun to advocate the use of elevators in high-rise buildings throughout a fire, to carry firefighters to the fire site and as a secondary method (after stairwells) for evacuating building occupants. NIST and others are studying ways to build “protected” elevators.

    In conjunction with the elevator industry, NIST is working to develop and test redundant, more reliable elevator-dedicated emergency power systems and waterproof elevator components and is investigating software and sensing systems that can adapt to changing smoke and heat conditions, maintain safe and reliable operation, and not shut down during fire emergencies. Such changes could allow elevators to be operated with remote control from the ground floor during fires, freeing urgently needed firefighters from elevator operation duties.

    In addition, NIST will use virtual reality simulation to test scenarios for coordinating firefighting activities, elevator egress, and stairway evacuation. By incorporating elevators into its graphic computer models, NIST will help fire safety experts identify the most effective operational procedures for specific fire conditions. NIST fire researchers hope to collaborate on emergency elevator operations standards with colleagues from around the world. Global standardization should reduce confusion during an emergency, enabling people to evacuate with confidence.12

    The USFA also supported the recent American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) International to allow for fire and emergency service participation and input for their Workshop on the Use of Elevators and other Egress in Fires and Other Emergencies, held in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 2-4, 2004. The goal of the workshop was to come up with concrete proposals that can be submitted to code-writing groups to assist in improving codes and standards.


    Single-story, wood frame structure-fire testing. As part of the USFA-NIST study regarding Structural Collapse Prediction Technologies, a series of fire tests was conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, to collect data for a project examining the feasibility of predicting structural collapse. The fire test scenario was selected as part of a training video being prepared by the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department. Multiple fires were started in each structure to facilitate collapse; the fires were not intended to test the fire endurance of the structures. Four structures with different roof constructions were used for the fire tests. Temperatures were measured as a function of time in four locations within each structure. Furniture items were placed in the front and in back of each structure to simulate living room and bedroom areas.

The living room and bedroom areas of each structure were ignited simultaneously using electric matches. Peak temperatures obtained during the tests ranged from approximately 800°C (1,500°F) to 1,000°C (1,800°F). The roof of each structure collapsed approximately 17 minutes after ignition. In addition to the full-scale tests, the plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) roofing materials were tested using a cone calorimeter to characterize the fire properties of the materials.

Another test series on a residential structure was conducted by NIST with the assistance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Kinston (NC) Fire Department. Ranch-style homes with traditional frame roof construction were studied. The houses experienced substantial destruction by fire to the point of roof collapse or burn-off. The houses were burned with and without extra loading on the roof. ATF staff measured movement of the roof and other parts of the structure during the fire using advanced laser range-finding technology. All tests showed very little or no motion of the roof during the house burns.

There were many difficulties in obtaining reliable position measurement. In one test, extra roof loading, provided by a water tank, was used to force a well-defined collapse. Harvey Mudd College conducted building vibration sensing in this test. Burnt wood roof-support members were retrieved from this test. They may provide useful information about the load-carrying capacity of burning wood supports. Temperature histories close to these wood supports were recorded to document the history of the high temperature exposure.

Block-and brick warehouse construction live fire testing. As a continuing effort of the USFA-NIST study regarding Structural Collapse Prediction Technologies, a second series of experiments was completed in Phoenix, Arizona, which included measuring temperatures and carbon monoxide inside a brick-and-block warehouse structure with a “traditional” wood-frame roof assembly. The building was about 150 feet long by 50 feet wide. Infrared cameras were used on the outside of the building to evaluate their usefulness in helping the ICs predict structural collapse. Harvey Mudd College conducted building vibration sensing in this test. Preliminary analysis of the results seemed promising; continued research will be conducted.

Live-fire testing at a shopping mall (USFA-NIST-ATF). The third set of experiments of the USFA-NIST study regarding Structural Collapse Prediction Technologies was conducted in May 2002. USFA and NIST fire engineers, the ATF, and Harvey Mudd College tested the ability of highly sensitive motion detectors to detect pre-collapse building vibrations at an abandoned shopping mall in Woodbridge, Virginia. These controlled fire tests examined the vibration characteristics of lightweight steel-frame building construction during fires large enough to cause the collapse of steel deck roofs.

Previous initiatives to investigate the integration of predictive capabilities of computer-based fire models with various nonintrusive sensing techniques will continue. Enhanced live operational testing using different types of construction and the results of such efforts will be done in the future. DVDs of the above experiments are available through the USFA, bill.troup@dhs,gov, or NIST, david.

  • Hose streams (USFA-NIST). The effects of suppressing “open” burning fires and structure fires with water applied with a straight stream, fog, and compressed air foam systems (CAFS) will be studied. Among areas of study will be drop size, velocity data needed for developing input into the NIST Fire Dynamic Simulator computer model that will enhance further study of fire suppression mechanisms and enable comparison with the Iowa Fire Flow and the NFA Fire Flow formulas commonly used in the fire service.


  • Health and Fitness14. The USFA, in conjunction with the IAFC and the IAFF, is working to expand and quantify the effectiveness of the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative. These projects supported the development of a peer-credentialing program based on standardized job performance requirements for fire department peer fitness trainers that would be recognized by the American Council on Exercise (a nonprofit fitness certification and education provider).

    Working with the NVFC, the USFA is striving to improve the fitness and wellness program for the volunteer fire service. It addresses fitness and exercise (aerobic, flexibility, strength training, and so on); diet; the cessation of smoking; and other areas that can positively impact firefighter wellness. The USFA and the NVFC will soon release the Fitness and Wellness Guide for the Volunteer Fire Service (FA-267).

    These efforts are especially important to the goal of attempting to reduce the number of line-of-duty firefighter deaths related to heart disease and stress (around 50 percent of fatalities for the past several years).

    Ways to enhance compliance with NFPA 58, Health Related Fitness Programs for Fire Fighters, will also be studied within the context of meeting the USFA goal to reduce firefighter fatalities 50 percent within 10 years.


    The November 2003 issue of Science magazine contained an article that summarized technologies for detecting and cleaning up chemicals and biological agents developed in the United States during the past few years, after the detection of anthrax in letters sent through the postal system in 2001.15

    The authors say several chemical detectors that have quick response times are commercially available but that there is a need for improvements in meeting the “sensitivities necessary for real-time protection of the general population while eliminating a tendency for high false-alarm rate.” Among other observations made in the article are the following:

    —Several options are available for handheld chemical detection. A state-of-the-art chemical detection system must be able to detect nerve, blister, and blood agents; many toxic industrial chemicals; and possibly mace and pepper spray.

    —Several projects for enhancing early detection and notification include environmental monitoring systems now deployed in major U.S. metropolitan areas.

    —A variety of small- and large-volume sampling devices used with activated carbon or ion-exchange resins (for preconcentration) for analysis by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and other methods are sensitive and specific enough to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines pertaining to incidences of false alarms for airborne exposure to chemical agents.

    —Developing biological protocols is more difficult because some biological agents are naturally occurring and systems must be able to distinguish between these agents and those introduced for warfare purposes.

    —Monitoring systems patterned after the one used for the 2002 Winter Olympics were developed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

    —The U.S. Army is developing an automated system designed for use in an enclosure that can process 300 biological agent samples a day.

    —Few handheld devices are available for first responders to biological incidents. One lightweight, portable field bioanalysis system can test four samples at once or run four different tests on the same sample in less than 30 minutes, but the responder must have an idea of which substance might be involved. A commercial version of the system has been developed.

    —Efforts are underway to develop simplified computational fluid dynamics models and techniques that can quickly identify releases in structures and into the atmosphere based on information provided by sensor networks. As an example, following the release of anthrax spores in the Hart Senate Office Building, NIST engineers used NIST-developed computer models to demonstrate ways in which airflows transported the spores. The results of the modeling were then used to develop decontamination strategies.16

    Even though major advances has been made in all of these areas, the authors say, “Preventing, preparing for, detecting, and responding to chemical and biological terrorism are still restricted by numerous challenges.”

    You can help to ensure that timely and appropriate technologies are continually being developed and moved into the mainstream of the emergency services. Before a research project can be designed and scheduled, an area of study/need must be identified. Who can pinpoint such needs better than you who work daily in those areas in which the needs are apparent. Make these needs and any ideas you may have for products/information that can help to fulfill them known to the individuals/agencies that have the resources to turn them into new “state-of-the-art” resources that can make your work more efficient and safer.

    Don’t fail to take advantage of the information, lessons learned, and products already at your disposal. Reports and materials covering much of the research and technologies cited above are readily available or will be soon. All you have to do is make a phone call, send an e-mail, or consult a Web site. You can acquire a wealth of safety-enhancing information and visual aids that you can use for training programs and drills in your department, jurisdiction, and even region. Making information and technologies (and grant programs) available is a preliminary step toward increasing responder safety. Beyond that, you have to take the initiative. The ball is in your court!



    2. For more information on the NTTC, call (800) 678-6882 or visit The ERT Web site is at; phone interview.


    4.;; phone and e-mail interviews.

    5. “Report on United States Fire Administration’s Fire Research Agenda,” submitted to Committee on Com-merce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. Senate and Committee on Science, U. S. House of Representatives, U.S. Fire Administration/Federal Emergency Manage-ment Agency, Mar. 2001.

    6., Mar. 13, 2004; phone interviews.

    7. For more information on FICEMS, contact USFA at FICEMS meets the first Thursday of the month on a quarterly basis at the National Emergency Training Center, Emmitsburg, Maryland. The next meetings are scheduled for June 3 (room J101) and September 2 (room J107). To participate, contact Ms. Patti Roman on or before the Tuesday before the scheduled Thursday meeting at (703) 674-0190, or by e-mail at Advance notice is necessary so NETC Security can be given a roster of expected visitors. You can participate if you cannot attend by calling (800) 320-4330 and entering the conference code 430746#.

    8. See News in Brief, Fire Engineering, Feb 2004.

    9. Product information can be downloaded at www.

    10. construction.shtm, Mar 2, 2004.

    11. The Phase 1 report is at bfrlpubs/fire03/PDF/f03082.pdf/.

    12. Richard W. Bukowski, “Protected Elevators for Egress and Access During Fires in Tall Buildings” Pro-ceedings, CIB-CTBUH International Conference on Tall Buildings, Oct. 20-23, 2003. Additional information is available from or by calling (301) 975-4261.

    13. nist1.shtm, Mar 2, 2004.

    14. fitness.shtm, Mar 2, 2004.

    15. “Technology challenges in responding to biological or chemical attacks in the civilian sector,” J. Patrick Fitch, Ellen Raber, Dennis R. Imbro, SCIENCE Vol 302, Nov. 21, 2003,

    16. homeland.htm/.

    General Resources Notes

    Presentations from recent Modeling & Simulation for Emergency Response workshops are available at www.

    Information on the USFA research programs are available at http://www.usfa. research.cfm/.

    “Safe Vehicle Operation of Fire Tankers” examines incidents of crashes involving fire tankers that killed and injured firefighters and ways to reduce or eliminate such incidents. It is available free from the USFA Publications Center.

    MARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering, fireEMS, and Before joining Pennwell Publishing Corp. in 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’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.


    Locating a fire, navigating in an interior fire environment, and helping rescuers find injured or trapped firefighters are some of the objectives of research conducted at the University of California at Berkeley (UC-Berkeley). Students in Professor Paul Wright’s High Tech Product Design and Rapid Manufactur-ing class build their own products, generally innovations of consumer products available on the market. After the events of September 11, 2001, some students began adapting their product designs to meet firefighters’ needs that surfaced during the World Trade Center operations.

    The emergent products included communication and information systems, a “smart helmet” (with an eye-level display area), and the prototype for a new fire alarm/detector system. The premise for these innovations is that making the additional information available to firefighters would help to keep them from becoming disoriented and lost in smoky environments. The Chicago (IL) Fire Department (CFD) and the Berkeley (CA) Fire Department have worked with UC-Berkeley in testing the products.

    After 9-11, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution requiring that electronic floor plans for all buildings higher than 80 feet (seven or eight stories) be submitted to the Office of Emergency Management and Communication (OEMC) so that rescue workers could navigate more efficiently inside the fire structure. The OEMC special projects coordinator had heard about the smart helmet display, which originally had been developed for motorcycle helmets, and asked UC-Berkeley if it could be adapted to accommodate the digital maps (floor plans).

    The UC-Berkeley team has worked closely with the CFD to create the customized smart helmets—air masks with wireless sensor motes and miniature near-eye displays [heads up display (HUD)]. By looking at the tiny screen inside their masks, firefighters could track their progress through a building and locate trapped firefighters or civilians.

    The incident commander and other officers, through the electronic incident command system (EICS), can efficiently monitor the progress of rescue operations inside and communicate with selected firefighters. Specially adapted heart-rate monitors on the firefighter’s neck and wrist enable the commander to instantly determine a firefighter’s medical status, including the fatigue level.

    (1) Professor Paul Wright (right) watches as student prepares to demonstrate the smart helmet at a US-Berkeley press conference at which former Governor Gray Davis was present.


    The system employs inexpensive tiny wireless sensors (motes) positioned in and around a building as well as on firefighters that broadcast limited-range signals, creating a type of local positioning system (LPS) inside buildings. Wright envisions that the LPS probably would be established by multiple antennae arranged outside a building on fire trucks and helicopters positioned around the site. They will triangulate the points needed to chart a position, keeping the position detectors (distributed inside the building in fire-resistant cases) safe from high temperatures and impact.

    The most recent version of the smart helmet uses an 11-ounce computer. The entire system—monitors, motes, transmitters, and batteries—weighs between five and 10 pounds.

    (2) The monitor reveals the information the wearer can view on the helmet’s heads up display. [Photos by Captain Gilbert Dong, Berkeley (CA) Fire Department.]


    The HUD, a stamp-sized panel that fits into the firefighter’s mask, pre-sents information similar to that given in a “you are here” map used in hotel rooms and shopping malls. High-contrast graphics and fonts indicate on the display the locations of exits, stairs, walls, doors, and other important architectural features. The HUD also advises firefighters of their air levels and relays messages sent by the incident commander by laptop computer. Another feature involves wireless platforms (fire directors) with mounted red and green lights that function as stoplights in doorways. The lights would indicate to firefighters whether fire is on the other side of the doorway.

    Berkeley Fire Department’s (BFD) Deputy Chief David L. Orth says the city of Berkeley has had a continuing partnership with UC-Berkeley and its Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) program. The technology, he explains, would help firefighters responding to a Mayday find firefighters lost or trapped in burning buildings more quickly.

    “Imagine looking through your facepiece and seeing floor plans and where firefighters are on the floor,” says Captain Gilbert Dong, BFD’s Station 5 commander, who has also assisted with the product testing. “When it’s smoky,” he adds, “you sometimes can’t tell an office from a broom closet. In high-rises, you would be able to pinpoint where firefighters are on the floor.” Dong notes that the system needs refinements so it could handle high temperatures and extreme heat, and bigger visuals. He estimates it would be two to four years before a finished product were available.

    BFD’s Assistant Chief of Training Craig Green, under whose direction the tests have been conducted in the department’s training tower, says the devices will keep firefighters safer, make them more effective in suppressing fires and rescuing other firefighters and civilians, and improve firefighter accountability. He anticipates that it would be at least a year before another prototype is available for testing.

    According to Wright, based on tests done in September at the Berkeley Fire Depart-ment Fire Tower, it would be about a year until a viable system were available. Ford Motor Company, the CITRIS, the National Science Foundation, and Intel Corp. provided funds for the projects.


    • “UC, City Firefighters Test Gear Inspired by 9/11,” Jakob Schiller, Berkeley Daily Planet, Sept. 12, 2003.
    • “Smart Helmets on the Horizon,” Gordy Slack, Forefront, University of California, Berk-eley, Fall 2003.
    • Interviews with Berkeley Fire Department’s (BFD) Deputy Chief David L. Orth; Captain Gil-bert Dong; and Assistant Chief of Training Craig Green.


    The National Aeronautics and Space Admin-istration (NASA), in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, has embarked on the NASA Wildfire Response Research and Development, Applications and Technology five-year project. The Ames Ecosystem Sciences and Technology Branch, which has been involved in airborne fire imaging since the 1960s, sponsors the program. The NASA Headquarters’ Earth Science Research Program’s Research, Education and Applica-tions Solutions Network funds the project.

    The objective is to develop fire surveillance technology that would make it possible to transmit remotely sensed data from an airplane to a ground station in real time. The surveillance system employs unmanned remote-control aerial vehicles, thermal infrared imaging technology, and data telemetry. The airplanes fly over fires and broadcast thermal images to fire managers, who use the images to assess the fire’s direction and speed.

    (1) Illustration of a forest fire.


    (2) Artist’s concept of a sensor “seeing” a forest fire. [Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.]


    (3) This graphic shows a proposed one-day UAV mission to observe multiple wildfires in the Western United States. (Photo courtesy of NASA.)


    The project is divided into three fundamental elements. The first, sensor development technology, uses the NASA Airborne Infrared Disaster Assessment System for fire observation and control. This system is carried aboard piloted or unmanned aircraft. In the second component, the data telemetry research and development phase, data transmission options, such as satellite uplinks or wireless LAN technology, is being tested to determine the fastest way for sending infrared imaging data to the fire manager on the ground. Data will go directly to a Web server the fire manager can access. In a recent experiment using satellite uplinks, scientists were able to transit thermal data to the fire manager in 10 minutes.

    Data integration represents the third stage of the project. This includes changing the data into an easily understood information format similar to a map, which will help fire managers decide where to deploy firefighters. The project is a strong collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Forest Service and draws on research and development from aerospace, information technology, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) science communities at NASA Ames.

    NASA new satellite technologies are being used to help firefighters respond to wildfires (as well as floods, mudslides, and other conditions) more quickly and to more efficiently allocate resources. The satellites sound the fire alarm. New software, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labora-tory in Pasadena, California, links several Earth Science satellites to create a virtual web of sensors that monitors the globe. An imaging instrument flying on one satellite detects a fire or other hazard and automatically instructs another satellite to take a closer look. If the images reveal a potential hazard, the responding satellite transmits data to ground controllers, who pass it to the U.S. Forest Service or an interested science team. The U.S. Forest Service uses RIPCom relays, the remotely sensed data about the location and status of wildfires from an airplane to a nearby ground station in near real-time. The airplane is parked in a hangar at the National Interagency Fire Center hangar in Boise, Idaho.

    References, Aug. 21, 2003. Aug. 21, 2003. Aug. 20, 2003.

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