Drones And Robots Now Part Of Firefighting Equipment

May 11, 2018

The largest fire department in western Massachusetts is putting machines on the front lines to reduce the risks to firefighters and help save people’s lives. 

The Springfield Fire Department has started to use new remote control cameras, drones, a tiny robot and a poisonous gas and radiation detection system to assist in fighting fires, responding to medical emergencies, and rescuing people in danger.

"Equipment like this is important to protect the residents of the city of Springfield," said Springfield Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi.

He said the portable equipment has been in use for the last few months.  It was put on display for the media, as officials explained what each piece of equipment is capable of doing.

A mobile video surveillance system that can be mounted on a telescoping pole transmits in both standard video and infrared which can detect images through smoke.  It was used recently to locate a person who was having a medical emergency in the middle of a large crowd of people.

Two camera-equipped drones give incident commanders an “eye in the sky” to help direct firefighting and rescue operations.

The larger of the two drones comes outfitted with an infrared camera that is sensitive enough to detect a person’s body heat in water.   Calvi said this will help direct rescue boats to a more precise location in a river or lake.

"These will all be positives for the city to speed the process of search and rescue," said Calvi.

A small remote controlled vehicle about the size of a notebook computer that moves about on treads is referred to as a “throw-bot” because it can be tossed through the window of burning building. It has cameras and a microphone and speaker that would let firefighters communicate with someone trapped in the building.

Calvi said the RAE Gas Detection System is a portable detector of chemical fumes, gases, and radiation that can be used to monitor the air at large-crowd events and hazardous materials emergencies. With a range up to two miles, it can also alert incident commanders to changes in wind direction.

"Then we can change the strategy to whether we are going to evacuate or use a protect-in-place posture," explained Calvi.

The city’s Office of Emergency Preparedness purchased the five pieces of hi-tech equipment. Director Robert Hassett said it brings the fire department into the 21st Century.

"We are letting machines do the job that sometimes people used to have to do to reduce the risk to people," said Hassett.

The cost of the equipment, about $100,000, was covered by private donations and some federal funds, according to Mayor Domenic Sarno.

"It is very very sophisticated which helps back up our brave men and women firefighters," said Sarno. "Springfield is one of the most respected fire departments, not only in the Commonwealth, but in the nation."

Sarno said the donors who helped purchase the equipment wish to remain anonymous.