Meet "FRED," a Robot Specially Designed for Hazmat Responses
Robots are increasingly becoming a part of our society, from manufacturing to helping with chores at home. For years, bomb squads have used robots extensively to handle dangerous jobs, no doubt saving the lives of countless bomb squad members.
Several fire departments are now using specially designed robots that are dedicated to hazmat response. The Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department in Picatinny, NJ, uses a Talon robot manufactured by the Foster-Miller Company that has many features tailored for hazardous materials responses. These features include an APD2000 chemical/biological meter, a Draeger multi-gas meter, a Canberra radiation detector, a laser temperature-detection device and a manipulative arm with a gripping claw. The robot also features four live cameras that can record video for later viewing or evaluation. All readings received from the meters on the robot are logged and the entire unit is intrinsically safe and waterproof to 90 feet. The robot has all-weather, day/night and amphibious capabilities and can navigate virtually any terrain. It can climb stairs, negotiate rock piles, overcome concertina wire, and plow through snow and surf. According to the manufacturer, the Talon is the first hazmat-capable robot of its kind.
Picatinny Arsenal, one of the nation's largest research and development facilities, is located in northwestern New Jersey near the borders with New York and Pennsylvania. The arsenal sits on 6,500 acres and covers an area of 20-plus square miles. The base has a daytime population of approximately 4,000 people.
The Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department is a full-time civilian Department of Defense fire department operating out of one station under the leadership of Chief Mark S. Sileikis, who has been chief for two years. There are 28 paid firefighters and two fire inspectors. Any call on the base results in the response of all on-duty firefighters (they also provide mutual aid to neighboring communities). The type of call dictates what type of equipment responds. Firefighters work a typical federal firefighter schedule of 24 hours on and 24 hours off. The Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department operates one engine company (a 1993 E-ONE Protector), one truck company (a 105-foot 1994 Pierce rear-mount "straight-stick" aerial with a 1,500-gpm pump), a 2002 Pierce hazmat unit, a Military Tactical Vehicle (MTV), an all-wheel-drive unit, two pickups, and a 2003 ACSI decontamination trailer and a hazmat support trailer. In reserve is a 1987 Amertec engine with a 1,000-gpm pump.
The Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department is one of the leading hazmat response departments in the region and provides mutual aid as far away as Orange County, NY. The department formed its Hazmat Team in 1987 due to operational and regulatory requirements at the time. Each firefighter on the department is trained to the hazmat technician level and all personnel take the New Jersey State Police 80-hour hazardous materials training course. Each shift is scheduled to have 14 technician firefighters on duty with the minimum number of nine required for a hazmat response.
Picatinny's Hazmat Team has operated the Talon robot for the past five years. Named "FRED" by members of the "B" Platoon (the name is short for Find and Reference Environmental Data), the robot folds up and is carried compactly in a front compartment on the driver's side of the hazardous materials unit so it is readily available on all responses. It is battery operated and charged constantly while in its storage compartment. FRED is equipped with a Raytek temperature sensor that can probe the surface of a container to check for temperature changes. It also contains monitoring instruments, including an APD 2000 for detecting military chemical agents. A Draeger Multiwarn monitor is used for detecting anhydrous ammonia, chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, methane and oxygen concentrations. A Canberra Rad detector checks for alpha, beta and gamma radiation. All monitors are capable of functioning simultaneously.
FRED is also equipped with four cameras, an elbow camera, a gripper camera, a rear camera and a 360-degree camera. The gripper camera is located on the end of the robotic arm called the gripper and allows the operator to see what the gripper is doing while controlling it remotely.
FRED has a grip strength of 35 psi, letting the robot lift 25 to 30 pounds and drag up to 200 pounds, depending on the surface. The lifting feature permits the movement of materials on scene or retrieval of items or information from the scene. The robot is also capable of a dragging function. This function can be used by the robot to remove victims, including response personnel, or ferry equipment into or out of the scene. Two-way radio communications capabilities on the robot permit monitoring of sounds in the "hot zone" or initiating contact with contaminated or injured victims. When a bomb is suspected, the robot's spool of fiber optics can establish communications without using radios that could set off a bomb.
FRED is normally outfitted with a universal track, but has others for varied types of surfaces. A hazmat technician controls the operation of FRED from the Operations Control Unit (OCU), a computerized unit that can display the video from the robot's four cameras individually or at the same time in a split-screen view. The unit provides real-time data readouts from the robot's monitors. All movement of the robot is controlled from the OCU along with communications capabilities. FRED can operate for six to eight hours on a single battery charge.
The robot is often used to gather information on suspected hazardous materials involved in an incident remotely, thus keeping personnel out of harm's way until more information can be determined on the hazards of the materials. On entering the "hot zone," the robot can send back video showing placards or other markings on a container, a leak in the container or the spill itself. Other information can be obtained from the video including any other circumstances that may compound the problem with the hazardous materials. Samples of product spilled could also be obtained by the robot, expediting the identification process.
The robot can be removed from its storage compartment on the hazmat unit and deployed in minutes, while setting up decontamination and dressing out entry personnel to gather information and then decontaminating them would take much longer.
In addition to the robot and typical hazardous materials equipment, Picatinny Hazmat Team unit carries two weather stations, a portable wireless video camera independent of the robot's cameras, and two laptop computers equipped with TOMES and CAMEO software. Level A chemical protective suits used by the team are Tychem and 10,000 Lakeland and Level B chemical protective suits are Lakeland Tic BR and Tyvec. Respiratory protection is provided to response personnel with Scott 4.5 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and one-hour bottles. Scott in-suit communications equipment also is used. In addition to the hazmat unit, a trailer is available with bulk absorbents. Additional supplies are kept at the station.
Decontamination can be performed using the department's decon trailer or typical wash-and-rinse stations. Monitoring instruments used by Picatinny's Hazmat Team outside of those mounted on the robot include a Draeger CDS kit, Draeger Pac Ex O2 and LEL meter, MSA five-gas monitor, Draeger CMS and RAE Pid. Also carried are pH paper, Draeger color-metric tube sets and various radiation detectors.
Major hazardous materials exposures for the Picatinny Hazmat Team occur on the base. Actions have been taken to establish a system that minimizes the exposure to hazmat personnel. In 1998, the arsenal's Hazmat Team established a central management and storage facility known as a "Hazmart." This is the facility where the installation staff receives, distributes, stores and tracks all hazardous materials used on the arsenal. More than 30,000 hazardous material containers are on base at any time, many of which are used to conduct extensive laboratory testing and formulation development. The Hazmat Team designed the Hazmart as a state-of-the-art facility that includes six hazardous material storage lockers capable of safely storing many different classes of materials. These include all of the Department of Transportation's hazard classes: oxidizers, poisons, corrosive material, flammable material and materials dangerous when wet.
Each storage locker is equipped with individual alarms and fire-suppression systems. Storage locker shelving has primary spill containment, and secondary spill containment is built into the flooring of each locker. Independent fire alarms for each locker are connected directly to the fire department. Additionally, tertiary spill containment is built into the main warehouse as well as a sprinkler system with an additional fire suppression feature.
For additional information about the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department, contact Richard Bizzari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROBERT BURKE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland-Baltimore. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be contacted at email@example.com.