2012-2013

WPI Honored for Firefighter Safety Technology

An enthusiastic round of applause heated up the historic Mechanics Hall on a cold winter day this past December when four WPI professors took the stage at the 23rd Annual “Firefighter of the Year” ceremony.

An enthusiastic round of applause heated up the historic Mechanics Hall on a cold winter day this past December when four WPI professors took the stage at the 23rd Annual “Firefighter of the Year” ceremony.  The State Fire Marshal’s Award was presented by Governor Deval Patrick to WPI professors and multi-disciplinary research team members, John Orr, David Cyganski, James Duckworth (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Kathy Notarianni  (Fire Protection Engineering), as they received a standing ovation from a full-house audience.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognized WPI with the State Fire Marshal's Award for significant contributions to the fire service made by those outside of the service.

The soulful sound of bagpipes filled the air during a heartfelt moment as the ceremony honored fallen firefighters including Worcester Firefighter Jon Davies Sr., who was killed in the line of duty one year ago, and firefighters from Worcester and 14 other communities for bravery, courage and heroism. The National Anthem and other musical selections were performed by the WPI Brass Ensemble, under the direction of Douglas Weeks, administrator of music at WPI.

The State Fire Marshal’s award recognized WPI for its important work on developing technologies and devices that precisely locate first responders inside buildings to warn them of threats from flashover and toxic gases.  The WPI team has been conducting innovative research on the most pressing challenges facing firefighters such as positional and directional determination in an extremely dense, rapidly-changing, dangerous, and unfamiliar time critical environment. The development of an effective firefighter locator in such environments and the ability to communicate with them increases the chances of positive outcomes to help prevent the loss of lives.  Their high-impact, innovative research will continue to improve the conditions not only in firefighting but in many other similar circumstances where important life-saving decisions need to be made in very short time frames amid a broad spectrum of unknowns within hazardous environments.

In December 1999 the city of Worcester lost six firefighters after they were unable to find their way out of the Worcester Cold Storage warehouse, which was destroyed by fire. Professors Orr, Cyganski and Duckworth set out to develop technology to help command officers to precisely locate firefighters, in three dimensions, inside buildings, and to guide them to safety or rescue them, if necessary.  Prototypes for a personnel locator device have been developed and extensively tested.

WPI has worked closely with the Worcester Fire Department and the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy.  They have raised interest and received national support through major awards from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop a solution to this challenge.

WPI will continue to make great strides in conducting ongoing research and technology to prevent the loss of firefighter’s lives in the line of duty and to improve their long-term health.

March 18, 2013

 
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