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The Future of Firefighting: Firefighting Robots

There’s no denying that firefighters work in a dangerous business. They put their lives on the line every time they go to work — often running toward danger when everyone else is running away. And the numbers back it up. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 60,825 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2019. Also that year, 39% of all reported firefighter injuries occurred at the fire ground.

Despite the hazards of the job, firefighters selflessly serve a vital role in their communities, and their safety is of the utmost importance. The future of firefighting is always evolving, and new firefighting technology has helped keep firefighters safe and increased their ability to more effectively put out blazes in many different settings.

Arguably, the most impactful and significant of these recent technological advances are firefighting robots. Since they were first introduced by Howe & Howe Technologies, firefighting robots have been a game-changer in helping battle blazes of all kinds.

For anybody looking to rise through the firefighting ranks, becoming familiar with all the new technology to fight fires is crucial.

History of Firefighting Robots

The first commercial firefighting robot in the U.S. was developed by Maine-based Howe & Howe Technologies. Named the RS1-T2 Thermite, the initial firefighting robot was unveiled in 2012 and was based on technology the company created for the U.S. Army.

The Thermite was designed to fight fires in environments where it is too dangerous for humans to go, such as airplane fires, nuclear reactors and other high-hazard situations. In addition to going into dangerous scenarios, the Thermite is also more mobile and agile, which provides fire departments with an added tool in their arsenal.

Since the initial Thermite was developed by Howe & Howe, they expanded the technology considerably. Look no further than the Thermite RS3, which boats a flow rate of 2,500 gallons per minute and has the strength to push vehicles from its path and pull up to 8,000 pounds.

Although the Thermite was the original, it’s certainly not the only robot that has been called into battle blazes. Firefighting robots became more well-known in 2019 when crews used them to help battle the flames at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The Paris Fire Brigade used the Colossus robot. The tank-like technology navigated the centuries-old structure and provided vital information to firefighters on the outside. In an interview with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Cyril Kabbara, cofounder of Shark Robotics, explained how important a role the Colossus played.

“Colossus acts as a kind of technical support station to the firefighting team by supplying information from its sensors to both the remote pilot and the other firefighters in real-time,” Kabbara said. “This is an essential function in the dangerous circumstances the workers face when they enter an emergency scene, and it’s very important that all the information is in the same place, as opposed to different sensors that the team has to carry with them into the building.”

While not every fire department will encounter such daunting challenges, firefighting robots provide many benefits. In 2020, the Los Angeles Fire Department became the first department in the United States to debut this game-changing technology.

The LAFD debuted its Thermite RS3 in October 2020 and put it to work right away. Before the department even announced its acquisition, it was helping out at an early-morning structure fire. Take a look at the video for details. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the biggest advantage offered by firefighting robots is that it provides the department a look inside dangerous environments when they would not risk sending humans inside.

“I can afford to lose one of these wonderful machines. I cannot afford to lose a firefighter,” Terrazas told the newspaper.

Whether it’s the RS3, Colossus robot or any future technology, it’s clear that firefighting robots have changed the industry and are helping keep firefighters and citizens safe.

Advantage of Firefighting Robots

The high-profile uses of firefighting robots prove they can be put to work in a variety of scenarios. Of course, not every fire is as challenging and unique as the Notre Dame in Paris — that does not make these technological marvels any less valuable to departments around the United States. Firefighting robots can be used in many of the following scenarios:

  • Providing safe interior fire operations on large commercial fires
  • Tackling blazes on wood-framed structures under construction
  • Establishing a structural defense against wildfires
  • Completing the rescue of large animals 
  • Helping to extinguish fuel tanker fires
  • Fighting auto storage fires

In addition to providing a safe alternative to putting firefighters in harm’s way, firefighting robots are exceptionally effective at extinguishing fires thanks to their impressive specifications. Need proof? Look no further than what the Colossus robot is capable of. The Colossus can spray 660 gallons per minute, and its 1,100-pound frame makes it extremely durable.

And it’s not just the Colossus. Lockheed Martin developed a remote-controlled firetruck dubbed the FireOx. According to a segment on Bloomberg Television, the FireOx can be programmed to follow GPS directions in addition to being remote-controlled, and it was developed by repurposing a base vehicle they used in Afghanistan — so you know it can withstand some of the harshest environments.

What does the future hold? Brian Lattimer, the vice president of research and development at the safety engineering and consulting firm Jensen Hughes, told The Washington Post the opportunities are vast.

“Eventually, we’ll have collaborative teams of robots — in the air and on the ground — that will work closely with people and reduce the risk to human life,” he said.

Learn About Firefighting Robots

As firefighting technology continues to advance, it is crucial for those looking to move up in rank to be familiar with the emerging tech. One way for them to do this is by seeking out the best bachelor’s degrees for firefighters.

By furthering their education, firefighters stay at the forefront of the latest advancements in the field and position themselves for leadership roles within the department.

The best degrees for firefighters combine many worthwhile skills into a one-degree program. The core curricula often include courses on practical topics like Building Construction for Fire Prevention and Fire Investigation and Analysis as well as more administrative topics including Personnel Management for the Fire & Emergency Services and Political and Legal Foundations of Fire Protection.

But perhaps most important are Strategy and Tactics courses, which focus on the principles of fire ground control and can implement topics like firefighting robots into the course content.

Firefighters are the first line of defense against some of the most dangerous environments imaginable, and they need all the tools at their disposal to do their job well. With the advent of firefighting robots, now is the time to help shepherd these technological marvels through to the next generation of firefighters.

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