Smart firefighting

Issue 5 2023 Fire & Safety, IT infrastructure

Winter Leng.

Firefighting is a dangerous and challenging task where every decision matters. To safeguard lives and property from fire, the adoption of modern technologies is crucial. Smart firefighting, powered by a wide range of technological advancements, such as broadband communications, IoT, and AI, creates a proactive and efficient approach to fire prevention and responds to emergencies effectively.

Advanced wireless communications and smart sensors play vital roles in this transformation in obtaining and transmitting real-time awareness and facilitating incident command and control. Integration of technologies, like modern smart radios, ad-hoc repeaters and MESH, cellular LTE/5G, ensure seamless communications and real-time information sharing among firefighters, commanders, and dispatchers throughout all firefighting stages.

This article delves into these technological advancements empowering firefighters with ‘knowledge is power’ and explores how fusion tactical networks and modern radios transform firefighting operations and enhance health and safety.

1. Reliable two-way radios

For decades, two-way radios, powered by push-to-talk (PTT) voice technology, have been the go-to communication tools for firefighters. Their efficiency and reliability make them indispensable in critical situations, allowing swift status updates and commands by simply pressing the dedicated PTT button and speaking.

The shift from analogue to digital technology has further improved voice clarity, data service (SDS), and spectrum utilisation, resulting in more efficient and effective communication. In addition, global standardisation efforts for interoperability among vendors, the establishment of public-safety-grade (PSG) systems with high availability and the use of ruggedised devices for harsh environments have played crucial roles in the success of PMR (private mobile radio) worldwide.

Notably, public safety two-way radios are purpose-built to excel in touch environments, featuring rugged designs to withstand vibration, impact, extreme temperatures, and exposure to dirt and water. These reliable radios ensure that first responders can carry out their operations effectively. Additionally, they support hands-free operations for firefighters wearing bulky gear and provide man-down emergency alerting.

With necessary intrinsically safe (IS) certification for use in explosive environments, these radios are crucial for ensuring the safety of firefighters. In contrast, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) devices lack the required reliability and durability for emergency responders, making them unsuitable for demanding firefighting conditions.

2. The emergence of multimedia and IoT

In the future, firefighting demands a shift from relying solely on voice communication to embracing data and video for enhanced situational awareness and decision-making, known as Smart firefighting. Multimedia services like PTToC and 3GPP MCX will play a crucial role in converging voice, data, and video services, enabling smart fighting applications like video streaming, sensor data sharing, and location tracking. Smart devices like hybrid PMR/LTE radios will ensure reliable communication and high-data transmission, seamlessly connecting to various networks for efficient emergency response.

Safeguarding firefighters’ health and safety is paramount, and mission critical IoT technologies play a vital role. Incorporating biometric, environmental and location sensors enables real-time monitoring of critical information like temperature, vital signs, hazardous materials and positioning, ensuring safety and transforming firefighting operations.

While voice communication remains essential, video-as-a-sensor (VaaS) offers an invaluable addition, enhancing situational awareness. Smart radios with push-to-video features access video feeds from body cameras, carry-on cameras, CCTV, UAVs and more, providing real-time visual information and valuable perspectives of the scene. Specialised video applications, like helmet-mounted cameras with thermal imaging, help firefighters quickly detect victims and assess interior conditions, contributing to comprehensive situational awareness.

3. Building a robust sensor data network on the scene

To ensure effective communications and sensor data transmission, a reliable field network, known as Personal-Area Network (PAN) and Local-Area Network (LAN), is essential, especially in areas with limited network coverage. Integrating various communications systems, such as DMO, repeater, MESH, LTE/5G, satellite and airborne replays, allows IC to establish a robust tactical network on the scene. This mesh network enables seamless information sharing among firefighters and commanders, avoiding a single point of failure.

Notably, ad-hoc networking and cognitive radio technologies, such as ad-hoc repeater and advanced mesh have gained popularity due to their flexibility and robustness. With their multi-hops relays and self-organisation capabilities, these technologies can be deployed effortlessly and penetrate dense construction materials and thick smoke, making them practical and reliable in firefighting scenarios.

In addition, video applications rely on high-data transmission, where advanced mesh technologies play a crucial role in reliably maintaining a high-performance data link, also complementing two-way radios through their higher audio fidelity. Moreover, technological convergence in devices has resulted in the development of hybrid radio, a single device that combines multiple wireless and networking technologies.

These smart devices can easily access and switch across different networks, eliminating the need to carry separate radios. Serving as a hub, they connect wearable sensors and communication systems, transmitting critical data about firefighters’ health and safety. By embracing the apps ecosystem of the commercial world, these versatile radios have become powerful tools for firefighters.

4. Harness fusion wireless solution to enable robust, seamless connectivity

The fusion wireless solution is transforming firefighting with advanced tactical communications. It combines lightweight wireless units, including ad-hoc repeater, advanced mesh, Wi-Fi and LTE, with hybrid-mode smart radios, creating a flexible and robust ad-hoc network without infrastructure. The solution enables seamless communications across different networks without disrupting critical operations while delivering voice, data and video services. Additionally, it includes a command post with built-in LTE and satellite backhaul for central dispatch and monitoring by IC at the scene. With these features, the solution extends dependable network coverage to remote areas or inside structures, enhancing situational awareness, decision-making and firefighter safety.

Key components of the solution are:

a. Manpack ad-hoc repeater: Going beyond the traditional repeater, it provides long-distance separate voice and low-data communications with its powerful 10 W RF and multi-hops and aerial relay capabilities, ideal for complex terrains and conditions.

b. Cognitive manpack mesh: This advanced technology offers a high-performance data link for video and voice data through intelligent routing, MIMI, resistance to interference, multi-hops and aerial reply, adapting to challenging RF environments and scenarios.

c. Command post: An all-in-one centralised platform for ICs that integrates voice dispatch, video monitoring and GIS mapping for unified on-scene coordination and real-time decision-making during firefighting operations.

d. A fleet of hybrid-mode rugged smart radios: Specially designed for modern firefighters and emergency responders, these radios combine multiple wireless technologies and come with features like one-button switch and call, making them powerful tools. With these radios, firefighters can communicate quickly, access apps, monitor vital signs and share real-time information across various networks through firefighting stages.

Fusion solution and the fleet of hybrid-mode radios

With the fusion of these advanced technologies, firefighters gain improved communication reliability, enhanced situation awareness, access to critical apps, and real-time health monitoring, resulting in smarter firefighting operations and enhancing their capabilities during life-saving missions.

Furthermore, the integration of the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), control room, PMR and LTE networks, and the field fusion wireless network empowers firefighters with hybrid-mode device fleets. These devices serve as powerful tools throughout the entire response stage, enabling quick response to assignments, staying connected with dispatchers via multimedia service while en route, and facilitating robust voice and data communications in challenging fireground conditions. Additionally, the devices and platforms record invaluable data for post-event analysis, contributing to improvement in fire response strategy and techniques.

In conclusion, as firefighting continues to face ever-evolving challenges and dangers, leveraging new technologies and innovative solutions is crucial for improving firefighting effectiveness and safety. By integrating smart radios, innovative wireless technologies, fusion field networks, and IoT sensors, firefighters can respond faster and coordinate better during emergencies, protecting lives, property, and their own safety.

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