WPI Works Toward FF Tracking System

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute is honing in on completing an integrated monitoring system designed to reduce deaths and injuries in a direct response to the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire that killed six firefighters 10 years ago this week.

"We believe this work will help provide firefighters with the necessary technology to ensure that there is not a repeat of the 1999 warehouse fire tragedy," James Duckworth, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said in a statement.

WPI was recently awarded a one-year, $1 million award from FEMA to continue its research. When completed, the system will precisely locate and track firefighters inside buildings in three dimensions, monitor vital signs and provide incident commanders with an early warning of impending flashover, according to the college's Web site.

"The prediction of the time to flashover will give the incident commander a critical piece of information that -- when combined with the location of each firefighter -- will greatly enhance the natural decision making process," Associate Professor Kathy Notarianni said.

The system uses advanced radio frequency and radar technology to locate firefighter and track their movements from the incident commander's station. The system will also monitor physiological conditions by a wireless pulse oximeter that is worn on the forehead and a sensor-embedded T-shirt. That information also is sent to the incident commander's station.

"Firefighting technology has always been borrowed from other fields," Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering David Cyganski said. "New important advances for saving firefighters will come from projects like this that address their specific needs directly."