Fire Information and Rescue Equipment (FIRE): Enhanced Decision-Making and Situational Awareness for Urban/Industrial Firefighting
Fire Information and Rescue Equipment (FIRE) is a project with the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) at UC Berkeley's Mechanical Engineering department. Firefighting can be an extremely demanding and chaotic environment in which one must make quick decisions on little information and divide attention between many immediate events, making it difficult to efficiently and accurately complete critical tasks such as building search and rescue. The FIRE project is addressing these challenges by applying and designing new technologies such as wireless sensor networks (WSNs) and small head-mounted displays (HMDs) for firefighting, and conducting experiments and exploratory research with firefighters. We aim to design, prototype, and implement information and communication enhancing tools for firefighters to improve the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of emergency responses. The project is focused toward large urban, commercial, and industrial building incidents such as high-rises and warehouses.
We are creating prototype hardware and software that as a system is intended to compliment existing and proven methods of firefighting. Our design methods are based on end-user interviews with and observations of firefighters, research on firefighting tactics, feedback from end-user demonstrations, participation in firefighting conferences, and usability experiments with firefighters. This system is partitioned into three main subsystems: SmokeNet, FireEye, and eICS.
Our strategy is to use a WSN called SmokeNet to track firefighters in large buildings and give them and the chief in charge, or Incident Commander (IC), important information about their location, the fire, and their health status. In this scenario, each firefighter has a computer attached to his or her SCBA tank or in their turnout coat, to which is sent a set of floor plans for the given building. A SmokeNet system preinstalled in the building tells the computer which floor plan level to display on an HMD mounted in their facepiece in the lower right corner of their field of view (Fig. 1). The firefighter sees a map of the building-floor on the HMD with a "You Are Here" symbol showing his or her location. Other symbols of a different color and/or shape show locations of other personnel on the same floor plan. Similar floor plans are seen on the IC's laptop as he or she coordinates the fire with the deployed teams. The IC sees a layered series of 2D floor plans for the entire building, and can scroll up and down through the floor plans. For example, a six-story building has six 2D floor plans stacked vertically (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: Concept illustration of the IC's display of firefighter positions and fire conditions.
Building floor plans are redrawn in CAD software and simplified for ease of navigation. This abstraction of detail is crucial, as firefighters must be able to read the plan at a glance. The main purpose of the floor plan is navigation and situational awareness, thus only basics like teammates, walls, doorways, room and floor numbers, elevators, standpipes, and stairways need to be shown. Danger zones such as the location of the fire are shown here in red.
Ideally, the system would be preinstalled in large buildings such as high-rises under a new fire code. If this is not possible, small radio beacons could be dropped like "smart breadcrumbs" by responders according to an intuitive deployment protocol (e.g., "place beacons approximately every 15- 20 feet"), and locate via triangulation. This would create an evolving ad-hoc SmokeNet mesh network, where as more firefighters place beacons throughout the building, the system would be able to track more personnel and the fire over a larger area.
The FIRE Project is made possible largely through funding provided by the Chicago Fire Department, The Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), Ford Motor Company.
SmokeNet is a WSN composed of smoke and temperature sensors and radio beacon nodes that convey critical information to firefighters, occupants, and the IC. It must be robust and redundant as it is the backbone of the FIRE system. It will allow firefighters to quickly determine where in the building the fire started, how the fire is spreading, and which evacuation routes are safe. We currently use the Telos beacon platform. The beacons are placed in custom smoke detectors and "stoplight" housings (with a red, yellow, and green LED) that we designed and prototyped. Stoplights would be placed on both sides of each entrance to every room to promote safe and efficient occupant evacuation. A red light indicates that the room is dangerous to enter, a yellow means status is unknown, and a green means it is safe to enter. This system would provide important decision-making and potentially time saving information to building occupants and firefighters.
The FireEye is a head-mounted display (HMD) in the firefighter's mask, designed to relay performance and safety enhancing decision support information in a hands free format. In designing the FireEye, consideration is given to many areas including robust hardware that passes NFPA standards, human factors issues such as ergonomics and accommodation, graphical user interface (GUI) design including egocentric vs. exocentric frame of reference, symbology, and information visualization issues of abstraction of information and balancing attention with information urgency. The FireEye is intended to enhance global situational awareness, and firefighters agree that a lack of personnel and fire location information in large incidents is one of their primary challenges.
The FireEye shows an interactive floor plan map with current locations of their self, Buddy (following the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) "Buddy System"), and team members, areas where smoke alarms have activated, remaining air supply, and key building features. The GUI is kept simple to prevent the FireEye from becoming an attention cost due to cognitive tunneling and excessive memory loading. The FireEye also acts via SmokeNet as a communication means for frequent yes/no checkups with the IC, and automatically alerts the user of emergencies like "low air" and "evacuate" using tactile and visual communication. This can mitigate information overload from walkie-talkies by reducing the often overwhelming amount of broadcast radio traffic. Continuously updated information comes from SmokeNet's radio frequency enabled location, temperature, and smoke sensors.
This information will be evaluated by a computer on the firefighter, updating the GUI with a new map view and any messages. There will be a simple user interface control system for zooming in and out of the floor plan and making limited communication (e.g., "help", "evacuate") with others. It would ideally be hands free. Ideas include a chest pad with large buttons, buttons on the SCBA pack, or voice control. These features are intended to give firefighters more information for effective decision-making, improved situational awareness, and a higher degree of safety.
The eICS is an electronic implementation of the NFPA Incident Command System, designed to help the IC orchestrate the scene and assess situations with greater efficiency, more information, and higher certainty. It will be software that runs on the IC's laptop at the incident scene. We have created a Flash GUI prototype that shows important information desired by the IC such as resource allocation, location of personnel on the floor plans of the building, and biometric data of firefighters including air supply and heart rate. We also have a working Java GUI that shows personnel location, and allows communication between the IC and firefighters. This includes the ability for the IC to tell personnel to go to a room by clicking on that room. The data will be transmitted via SmokeNet. It will alert the IC when the PASS system senses no movement of personnel, or a physiological problem. The system will allow efficient information management, simple yes/no checkups, and selected commands such as "evacuate," making it an important tool for this challenging and complex environment.