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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.