Firefighter Locator Test a Success at WPI Workshop

New technology designed to track and locate firefighters was successfully tested during the annual at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Tuesday.

“We have to remember, this is a tool like all of our other tools,” Sullivan said. “You should let it help you make decisions, not override them… Don’t forget the wall behind you because if it fritzes out, you’re screwed.”

During the second scenario, firefighters were once again deployed to search the same building for a fire in the basement. As the firefighters were doing a search, one of the crew members became separated from the other two firefighters who didn’t realize they had become separated until they made the second floor.

Sullivan then gave a report that the stairwell the crew had just made collapsed, separating the firefighters. With two separate GLANSER units in the building, one with a crew of two and the other fitted to the disorientated firefighter, Sullivan was able to reunite the three firefighters using the tracking device.

As developed, the GLANSER transmits information about the firefighter orientation in relation to the building allowing the incident commander or an appointee to help guide firefighters from a building.

While the unit interface only has the footprint of a building based on what is available from Google Maps, it does have a “bread crumb” like tracking line which allows the commander to see where the firefighters have gone and the direction in which they are heading. It also uses a “cocktail” of technology to provide elevation which indicates the floor on which the firefighters are located.

Mapar, the DHS project director, said the challenge of firefighter location is extraordinarily difficult to solve, but he was pleased that the GLANSER worked so well compared to some previous systems.

“You have held our feet to the fire and we appreciate that,” Mapar said, acknowledging that firefighters wanted technology like this years ago.

He also acknowledged there were some issues to resolve with the GLANSER system as tested, including beefing it up for use in the fire service, reducing its size and weight and then testing it in real life situations.

“We have got the technology down, we know it works,” Mapar said. “Now we have to improve upon it.”

Mapar said it appears that technology designed to help locate firefighters has hit a plateau and he asked if those in attendance if they would object if the DHS and his department started working on making improvements to other systems and technologies used by firefighters. Virtually everyone agreed it might be time to move on to other problems, and no one more passionately than Sullivan.

“If you could figure out a way to predict when a firefighter might have a cardiac emergency, you will save more firefighters in a year than you would in 10 (years) with a firefighter tracking system,” Sullivan said, adding that he said that five years ago and he’s been involved in the workshops for all seven years.

With that said, Mapar indicated the scope of next year’s workshop will expand to include other technological advances in the fire service, including Physiological Health Assessment System for Emergency Responders, PHASER for short, which is a companion program to GLANSER.

“Why don’t you work on fixing my damn radio so it works,” Sullivan also quipped, noting that his $99 phone worked better at a fire scene with a MAYDAY situation than his $1,500 two-way radio.