TX Fire Department, University Team Up to Improve FF Safety

Aug. 25, 2020
The partnership between Lubbock Fire Rescue and Texas Tech University was prompted by a roadside accident earlier this year that killed two first responders and seriously injured another.

A Texas fire department and a university's engineering school are teaming up on research projects in order to improve firefighter safety.

The partnership between Lubbock Fire Rescue and Texas Tech University's Whitacre College of Engineering grew out of a tragedy at the scene of a traffic accident earlier this year. In January, Lubbock Fire Lt. Eric Hill and Lubbock police officer Nicholas Reyna were killed and firefighter Matt Dawson was seriously injured when they were struck by a pickup truck while responding to two previous roadway crashes.

"Lt. Hill and Officer Reyna were working the scene of a traffic accident. They got struck by a vehicle and killed, and also the horrendous injuries that Matt Dawson sustained in that same accident, that was really the impetus for this research project,"  Lt. Brady Robinette told KJTV-TV.


Robinette is working with Suman Chowdhury, an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering, to develop the program. And for the current research project, they went straight to the top: the firefighter's helmet.

Researchers first will examine how firefighters use their helmets during vehicle extrications. Then they will look at the effect of a helmet's specifications—its weight and its profile—on a firefighter and determine the risks of head and neck injuries that a first responder might face.

Ultimately, the research will lead to the design of different helmet prototypes.

"The first prototype is to develop a new firefighter helmet or make some (improvements) of existing firefighter helmets to be used during the vehicular extractions," Chowdhurry told KJTV. "The second prototype we are looking for is to develop a next-generation firefighter helmet that can be used for active shooter incidents, which would provide both ballistic and thermal protections."

The partnership could reap safety benefits past equipment improvements, too. Virtual reality will be looked at it when it comes to providing training for firefighters.

"We are developing a virtual environment of different vehicular extrication scenarios that will help the firefighters to improve their performance," Chowdhurry told KJTV. "Also, we have the virtual reality-based driving capabilities, where it can help the first responders improve their driving performance."

Lubbock Fire Rescue also is sharing what it's like to be a firefighter with its Texas Tech partners. The department held a Fire Ops 101 workshop for several faculty members and students last week. Decked out in full firefighting gear, the participants ran through a simulated structure fire, a mayday drill and a few confined space training exercises, according to the department.

Although somber circumstances prompted this partnership between Lubbock Fire Rescue and Texas Tech University, Robinette hopes safety improvements can be made that lead to a brighter future.

"I definitely believe the research we perform here, if we get the funding we need, we'll be able to save the lives of firefighters and other first responders with the research," he told KJTV.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!