Orientation in Dense Smoke

© Fraunhofer FIT

Firefighters need to assess the situation and the requirements of a mission very quickly. In a fire, heat and dense smoke make reconnaissance difficult and dangerous. Critical incidents due to the lack of orientation have caused serious accidents in the past. New tools that help firefighters explore unfamiliar sites under conditions of heat and poorest visibility will be developed in the landmarke project. It is funded for a three-year period in the Research for Civil Safety program of the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research.

The tools under development will include so called landmarks that the firefighter reconnaissance teams take with them and deploy at important points of reference to improve orientation for themselves and the teams that go in after them. The landmarks combine sensors and radio communication; they communicate with components in the firefighter’s harness, exchanging e.g. information about their position and the temperature there. Thus they help the firefighters to find their way even in situations of poorest visibility, to locate and avoid particularly dangerous spots and to find missing persons more quickly.

In Our Focus: The Usability of the Firefighting Technology We Develop

In their training, firefighters learn to use special equipment to find their way in difficult and hazardous situations. Novel navigation aids need to build upon these capabilities and extend them. To achieve this, IT developers and firefighters, the future users, work closely together in the landmarke project. The developers thus thoroughly understand the requirements of operating in extremely demanding hazardous missions and can incorporate these requirements in the new technology. On the other hand, the firefighters come to better understand the roles and activities of the technology experts in the development process.

During the project’s kick-off workshop, firefighters from Cologne, researchers and development engineers teamed up for a series of training missions in the North Rhine-Westphalian Institut der Feuerwehr (Firefighters’ Institute) in Muenster. In these training missions the researchers and engineers learned quite a few things that are essential requirements for a usable systems. This shared experience also helped to establish an open and frank discussion between the future users and the R&D partners in the project.