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NFPA Impact: February 2015


February 4, 2015
By Shayne Mintz


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There is a constant and almost daily injection of new technology into our lives, homes and workplaces. But the gradual pace at which the latest-and-greatest technology works its way into the fire service is often frustratingly slow.

This past March, members of the NFPA and its research branch, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, participated in a workshop hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to look into this very issue.

The event provided a forum to identify and understand the research and development needs for implementing existing and emerging technologies; this includes what is referred to as cyber-physical systems (CPS), and the use of standards for data collection, exchange, and situational-awareness tools. The goals of the workshop were to:

  1. Establish dialogue amongst industry experts who are familiar with the unique characteristics of fire fighting, fire protection and CPS;
  2. Promote a better understanding of technology opportunities that exist for fire protection and the fire service; and,
  3. Begin to generate a collective vision among stakeholders to create a research road map that will outline priorities for moving forward.

So what are cyber-physical systems? They are systems that integrate wireless networks, advanced sensor technology, 3D simulation, and cloud services. In short, CPS is a new generation of smart systems.

The workshop brought together almost 70 experts from industry, education and government organizations – all of whom are involved in the world of CPS, fire fighting and fire protection.

Since 2010, there have been well over half a million structure fires in North America that have led to the deaths of more than 2,500 civilians, injured more than 35,000 civilians and firefighters, and cost more than $10 billion in property damage. It’s evident that there is a need to adapt and adopt technology to assist firefighters in their jobs, and maintain adequate levels of public safety.

While technology implementation and integration has been the theme of many keynote presentations at national and provincial fire chiefs’ conferences, the NIST workshop was the first time such a large group had come together to formally discuss the potential of advancing technology in a broad manner.

With exponential growth in sensor technologies and the ever-increasing quantity and quality of data generated by these sensors, it’s mind boggling to think of what information and tools future firefighters could use to manage both large- and small-scale emergencies. From drones, to advanced building-control systems, to bio and locator sensors, the cross purposing of technology can only make the world of fire fighting better.

Workshop participants discussed how data and information from CPS can be used to the advantage of first responders, what information firefighters want and need, and how that information can best be used. Furthermore, the group considered what information should be presented to or made available to other firefighters and first responders, to the incident commander and his or her staff, and to the emergency operations centres that oversee operations of large-scale events.

A main focus of the workshop was data gathering, processing, and decision making using that data/technology. Common themes emerged:

  • The use of sensors on the fire ground will increase to assist in situational awareness and personnel location.
  • There will be increased collection and use of data before the incident to aid in the effective use of personnel and equipment.
  • There will be enhanced interoperability among data systems.
  • Intelligent systems will be developed to assist with decision making and will become more pervasive.

The workshop developed next steps through the creation of a draft research roadmap for smart fire fighting; I urge everyone to read it. The roadmap gives a glimpse into the future of the fire service.

For more information, feel free to get in touch with me, or watch a free webinar on the subject at http://www.nfpa.org/training/ webinars. Read the full workshop summary report online at http://dx.doi.org/10.6028/NIST.SP.1174


Shayne Mintz has more than 35 years of experience in the fire service, having completed his career as chief of the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario. He is now the Canadian Regional Director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Contact Shayne at smintz@nfpa.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ShayneMintz


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