From Boston Tragedy, New Grant Allows WPI to Advance Work Aimed at Safeguarding Firefighters

WPI to explore development of fireproof attack hose in memory of Boston Firefighter Michael Kennedy; University first recipient of grant from newly established Last Call Foundation
September 26, 2014

Participants in Last Call Foundation event. At center: Kathy Crosby-Bell, mother of Michael Kennedy; to her right: WPI Dean of Engineering David Cyganski.

In a ceremony today at the Engine 33/Ladder 15 Firehouse in Boston’s Back Bay, the Last Call Foundation announced that Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will receive its initial grant. The grant will fund an effort contributing to the development of a fireproof attack hose and is a direct display of the foundation's commitment to supporting the scientific and academic communities working in the field of fire safety research in memory of fallen firefighter Michael Kennedy.

Kennedy, 33, was killed in the line of duty in Boston's Back Bay along with Lt. Edward Walsh on March 26, 2014. Among the challenges facing firefighters that day was a hose that burned through in the fire.

The fire attack hose project is the latest chapter in a multi-faceted research effort at WPI spanning nearly 15 years that is focused on developing technological solutions to problems that threaten the safety and health of first responders. Other research efforts have produced technology for precisely locating first responders within buildings; monitoring their physiological status; alerting them to the imminent onset of flashover; and, most recently, warning them when they are in the presence of toxic gases in or near the fire ground.

The Last Call Foundation, which has been established to provide funding, education, and research to advance the safety needs of the firefighting community, beginning in Boston, will provide $75,000 to WPI. It will support a project that lays the groundwork for the future production and widespread adoption by the fire service of a fireproof attack hose. The co-principal investigators for the phase 1 project are two members of WPI's Fire Protection Engineering department, associate professor Kathy Notarianni and research engineer Raymond Ranellone.

"The Last Call Foundation is committed to helping ensure that Boston's firefighters have access to the most innovative and effective tools to keep themselves and the community safe," said Kathy Crosby-Bell, mother of Firefighter Kennedy and president of the foundation. "WPI engineers and scientists work tirelessly to advance the field of fire safety, and we look forward to supporting them in their work."

David Cyganski, dean of Engineering ad interim for WPI, said the research team at the university is eager to coordinate with all major stakeholders, including national fire protection officials, fire hose manufacturers, material scientists, and members of the engineering community.

"We’re confident that this new collaboration will put us on a pathway to developing a fire hose that will lead to improved firefighting practices," said Cyganski. "This research and technology development effort could impact the safety of firefighters nationally and internationally."

As part of the project, the WPI researchers will document the current state of the art in fire hose manufacturing and examine the materials currently used in fire hoses and how they perform when exposed to fire. They will investigate other materials designed for use in high-temperature environments and explore their suitability for use in fire hoses. They will also study how fire hoses are manufactured in other nations to see if there are any lessons to be learned, and study applicable codes, standards, and approvals processes in the United States, and the functionality requirements of the fire service. Finally, they will then organize a workshop at WPI to vet their findings with a variety of stakeholders, including representatives of the fire service.

This phase of the research will produce a list of potential new materials or combinations of materials for fire hoses that can then be tested for fire performance in WPI’s fire protection engineering laboratories. The project will extend from Nov. 1, 2014, to July 31, 2015.

This project is the most recent effort in an extensive body of research on fire safety and the fire service conducted at WPI since the inception of its fire protection engineering program more than 30 years ago. WPI has the distinction of having one of just two graduate level fire engineering programs in the country.

WPI's contributions to firefighter protection were spurred following the December 1999 Worcester Cold Storage fire, in which six Worcester firefighters were killed after they were unable to find their way out of the smoke-filled warehouse. WPI Professors John Orr, James Duckworth, and Cyganski set out to develop technology to help command officers locate firefighters precisely, in three dimensions, inside buildings, and to guide them to safety or rescue them.

In developing a solution to this and other challenges faced by the fire service, WPI has worked closely with the Worcester Fire Department and the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, and benefitted from major awards from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Prototypes for a personnel locator device have been developed and extensively tested. More recently, the researchers have developed a sensor that would give a firefighter advance warning of flashover conditions, in which combustible materials in a room simultaneously erupt in flames, and are working on a new device that will warn firefighters of the presence of toxic gases.

In December 2012, WPI firefighter safety researchers, including Cyganski, Duckworth, Orr, and then department head Notarianni, were honored at 23rd Annual Firefighter of the Year Ceremony at Mechanics Hall in Worcester. At the ceremony, they accepted the Fire Marshal's Award from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, then-Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Public Safety and Security Secretary Mary Elizabeth Heffernan and Fire Marshal Stephen Coan on behalf of WPI, which was being recognized for its research to further firefighter safety.

About the Last Call Foundation

The Last Call Foundation is a Boston-based, 501(c)(3) organization with the mission of providing funding, education and research to advance the safety needs of the firefighting community, beginning with Boston. The Foundation was founded by Kathy Crosby-Bell in memory of her son, fallen firefighter Michael Kennedy, who along with Lieutenant Edward Walsh died battling the nine-alarm fire on March 26, 2014 in Boston’s Back Bay. The tragedy highlighted the unique challenges facing Boston’s firefighters. The Foundation is committed to identifying and addressing these challenges to enhance firefighters’ ability to safely and effectively fight fires and protect the community. For more information and to learn how you can get involved, please visit

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Sept. 27, 2014 - WPI receives $75,000 grant to develop fireproof fire hose