2009-2010

Professors David Cyganski and James Duckworth Receive $1M from FEMA

Fireground Environmental Sensor System (ESM)

An Integrated Firefighter Locator and Environmental Monitor providing Real-Time Flashover Warning and Advanced Firefighter Situational Awareness

Professors Cyganski, Duckworth (ECE) and Notarianni (FPE) have received $1M from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). This award is made under the Fiscal Year 2008 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program.

The goal of this project is to reduce the number of injuries and Line of Duty Deaths (LODD) of fire fighters from traumatic injuries while operating inside structures, especially those due to burns, smoke inhalation, stress, and becoming lost or trapped. The specific aim of the project is to meet this goal by developing firefighter-deployed 'dynamic instrumentation' of the interior of a burning structure to improve the situational awareness of the incident commander. Most significantly, a key objective is the creation of a new firefighter deployable sensor that will provide ample warning of the potential for and estimated time until flashover.

WPI, a leader in precision deployable wireless indoor/outdoor personnel location and fire protection engineering, and Foster Miller Inc., a leader in sensors, robotics, physiological monitoring and display, and NIST, will jointly construct and test a unique proof-of-concept firefighter safety system to improve situational awareness for firefighters and provide a new vital warning system. The integrated system will provide critical safety information about the interior sector of the fireground, location and physiological information about each firefighter on an incident commander graphic display with continuous real-time updates. A central contribution will be development of a small, automatically deploying sensor that will collect the data needed to compute the flashover potential for the room it is in as well as a floor to ceiling thermal profile. The interior sector's thermal profile, estimated time till flashover onset and the firefighters' locations and status will be shown on a unified graphical display for enhanced situational awareness.

The proposed one year program integrates, for the first time, a unique firefighter 3-D location and physiological stress monitoring system with real-time monitoring of interior sector environmental conditions. This type of improved situational awareness was judged to have the highest group priority and symposium ranking on the National Fire Service Research Agenda. Improving protective equipment, fitness, education and training alone does not address the root cause – this requires warning of overexertion or incapacitation before it is too late; and precise location of the user on the fireground. Current fire equipment does not do this, while the proposed system will address creation of a firefighter specific system aimed at important causes of injury and death in structure fires. Results will be disseminated by the end of 2010.

We intend to demonstrate that deployable, dynamic thermal sensors can be used in conjunction with location/ physiological information to greatly enhance situational awareness and to provide sufficient advanced warning of impending flashover and other thermal threats so as to greatly impact firefighter safety in structural fires.

August 28, 2009