Heart attacks and cardiac events are the leading cause of firefighter Line of Duty Deaths (LODDs), resulting in over half of LODDs in 2011. But new technologies, such as the Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform (WASP), show promise in reducing firefighter deaths and disabilities, said Caleb Holt, Coordinator of the Product Development Center, part of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).
TEEX PDC executed a test-bed agreement with Globe Manufacturing Co. to evaluate WASP in a 100-hour extended field trial in December 2012. WASP provides location tracking and physiological monitoring of individual firefighters in real-time from the fire command center. Globe and a team of partners involved in the development of WASP wanted to evaluate the usability and wearability of the protective clothing by firefighters in an extended field trial, Holt said.
“Physiological monitoring of emergency responders is a top priority in the fire service,” Holt said, “And when Globe needed to do an extended trial of the WASP technology, they wanted to do it at TEEX.”
Discussions with Globe coincided with TEEX’s 2012 launch of a blended learning recruit firefighter academy offered by TEEX’s Emergency Services Training Institute. The online academy requires recruits to attend a 210-hour “boot camp” or physical skills training session at Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station. “This was the perfect opportunity to evaluate the WASP technology,” Holt said.
Thirteen recruits attending the 21-day physical skills training session were fitted with a wearable fire-resistant shirt with a bio-harness and tracking unit. Zephyr Technology provides the bio-harness that monitors heart rate, breathing rate and calculates the internal core body temperature of each wearer.
In addition, TRX Systems provided a 3D tracking unit in the bunker gear, using Bluetooth technology to transmit a firefighter’s location to a communication device outside the incident scene. This allows on-scene monitoring of a firefighter’s movements inside the fire ground, and the unit sends an alert if a firefighter collapses and/or becomes unresponsive, Holt said.
The WASP technology has been developed by a team that includes Globe Manufacturing Co., Zephyr Technology Corp., TRX Systems Inc., Propel LLC, and Skidmore College Health and Exercise Sciences Department. The project is funded by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center (NSRDEC) National Protection Center. The National Protection Center partners with government agencies, academia and industry to promote advanced protective clothing and equipment for personnel in public safety, homeland security and homeland defense.
Globe is one of several companies that called on the TEEX Product Development Center to help evaluate a variety of emergency response technologies at its emergency preparedness campus, which includes the renowned Brayton Fire Training Field and the search and rescue training facility, Disaster City.