Globe’s WASPPhysiological and Location Monitoring on the Fireground

More on Globe's WASP technology.

It is late at night and the battalion chief is tugging at his collar as the evening chill increases. Next to him at the command post, the EMS duty officer and Safety officer are watching laptop monitors, one covered mostly with small green squares and another showing a rough sketch of a building with green figures moving about.

As the battalion chief is listening to radio reports of the progress companies are making he begins preparing for his second progress report. Fire on the first floor of this commercial occupancy began in the rear loading dock area. Companies on Side Charlie reported heavy fire when they took their positions, but the knockdown was quick and companies are doing searches and chasing extension.

Just before he presses the button on his handie-talkie the EMS duty officer reaches out to him, “Check this out, Ladder 104 Can, he’s spiked his heart rate and respiration.” The chief glances over and can see that the color of a box labeled 'Ladder 104 Can' has gone from green to yellow. “They should be on the second floor,” says the chief as he leans farther in and looks at the screen with the building and moving figures. On what appears to be the top of two floors, one figure is moving sporadically, in circles at times. “Let’s get him and get him out of there,” the chief says to everyone at the command post. He waves the officer of Rescue 4 over, as his crew is standing ready nearby as the RIC. “Ladder 104 Canman looks like he is disoriented and I’m going to send you in. He looks to be on the second floor, Side Charlie, Quadrant B, near the stairs but he’s moving around in circles. Lemme check with the officer if he can reach him.”

Suddenly, before the battalion chief can raise Ladder 104’s officer, the radio crackles, the voice panting, near breaking emotionally, “Mayday! Mayday! Ladder 104 Hook and Can…lost on the …floor, near Side…Side, I don't know where I…can’t find my way out. It’s getting hot…I’m low on…Help…”

In an earlier article we shared with you the new technology from Globe © Manufacturing Company called WASP (Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform) presented at FDIC. This new technology is an integrated system combing physiological monitoring and location tracking into PPE. This latest advancement in tracking technology has been developed enough to the point where this may be available to the fire service later this year. Already a few departments have participated in field testing and more are expected to participate in future opportunities.

Sensors integrated into the inside of a wearable duty shirt recording physiological data combined with location tracking technology integrated into the riding pants transmit to a wireless device provide hands free safety data. (Author photos)

The technology at the point of use begins here with a duty shirt, describe by WASP developers and firefighters in the field tests as quite comfortable. The shirts record the physiological data, through technology developed by Zephyr Technologies. TRX Systems provides the tracking location in GPS denied locations. From there, using Blue Tooth technology, all of this information is transmitted through the firefighter’s portable radio to a data terminal most likely located at the incident command post or nearby. Not intended for the incident commander, but a sub-level command officer such as within an EMS or Safety sector, the information presented is the wellness and location of each firefighter on the scene, in real time.

Combined, and not interfering with, the firefighter’s portable radio (left) vital information is transmitted and recorded, even if the radio fails to transmit messages. Jonathan Woodward of Zephyr Technologies points out actual heart rate and respirations of Atlanta Fire Rescue firefighters participating in a field test of the WASP system. (Author photo left, Globe image right)

Recognizing that heart attacks are a primary nature of death among firefighters, the WASP technology is the first sophisticated advance notice on the fireground. Currently, unless the firefighter in trouble can quickly recognize his or her impeding medical situation, incident commanders must wait for that firefighter to transmit his or her need to the incident commander. With WASP, the developing situation can be identified before the mayday or worse, the realization that a firefighter is down and missing. With a sector officer able to pay attention to data, alert to changes identified by earlier established levels, a firefighter (or company officer for insurance) can be contacted to make sure he or she is operating okay. Should the firefighter be stricken the tracking information can provide a reasonable direction inside the structure of their location, even without the use of pre-plan information.

Mike Mordecai, Globe’s Director of Business Development, said in a presentation to FireRescue Magazine/ contributors and bloggers, that the WASP technology is not a total solution to reducing firefighter line of duty deaths, but an important tool using the latest technology to provide firefighters real-time data in order to rescue a downed firefighter – or – get to him before he goes down.

FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation: "Globe Showcases Physiological Monitoring and Tracking System"

As with all technological advances and deployments the biggest question is cost. While WASP is still in the later stages of development there cannot be a true quote made other than in the thousands. Considering that additional development may introduce changes that lower the cost, as well as the long-term benefits of the technology, a logical realization would say that WASP can prove itself worth every penny spent.

An area for WASP that I was interested in was the culture acceptance. When I wrote about the new slim-profile SCBA, “Stick with the Old, Toss the New”, I was surprised by the readers who refused advances in SCBA that allowed for lighter, smaller packs. Many minds were stuck in a "tradition" rut based on looks and limited reasoning. The WASP may experience the same dissent particularly as firefighters, officer and chiefs try to pin down costs, staffing to interpret the data and data confidentiality. While at FDIC I asked about these subjects with a group of Boston firefighters and officers who had stopped at Globe’s booth. According to each of them, the issues were never of great concern. Instead, to their department’s credit, they compared the potential cost of WASP to what is already being paid out in disability and other pensions, as well as time, for firefighters who have experienced medical problems on the fireground. Boston participated in a field test of WASP as well and according to those firefighters, they are looking forward to doing more tests. Their view is that while WASP may not change individual behaviors, the information given to chiefs at the scene has such great value, especially if a firefighter goes down, that it cannot be ignored.

Other areas that I notice will be questioned by many are the viewable data (how and by who) and tracking. With the physiological monitoring, the display should a small number of individuals wearing the shirt. Of course, no fireground is operating with a maximum of six personnel. The larger view of the data can be expanded to show all personnel with the shirts in a general color-coded view. Who watches this monitor? That is done by, as stated above and explained by WASP developers, some sector officer specific to firefighter safety, and not the incident commander. This will work well with larger departments but the trouble comes with smaller departments of limited command staffing. Will the data show everyone’s name? No. For display purposes, names were used, but on the fireground, Globe intends that departments would use riding assignment/positions as the identification. Of course, this would make sense, especially given how we communicate on the fireground (or should).

Real time tracking can give the command post and rapid intervention team a head start on where to go when looking for a downed firefighter. Training officers can also use recorded data in lessons learned training, especially when investigating close calls. (Author photo)

The tracking and location data is amazing. Instead of having to rely on a repeater system as with other tacking technology firefighters using WASP can have their movements tracked in real time and recorded. Obviously the benefit to this is exponential. Not only can we use this with the LUNAR report, but we can possibly reduce the time it may take to find the downed firefighter and remove him or her to the outside. It is all speculative of course but I believe that you cannot honestly deny the possibilities that the technology presents.

Combine this with the WASP’s ability to record up to 24 hours of data and the ability to learn more of our behavior on the fireground, especially when departments must investigate fires where close calls occurred, is exponential. Here with the tracking data you can marry the actual steps to the individual interviews for a sharper picture and greater detail of lessons learned.

It is amazing, personally, to think of this age of technology we are experiencing in the fire service. When I started, the greatest safety device being put in use was the man-saver bars on the backstep and jump seats. The assistant chiefs, captains and lieutenants on duty had the only radios and there were no hydraulic forcible entry tools or chain saws for ventilation. Now, in 2012, we are getting closer and closer to better firefighter tracking and monitoring of physical health – before something bad happens.

Can anyone honestly argue against this?

Globe's WASP from Elsevier Public Safety on Vimeo.


Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

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