Alan M. Petrillo
Two prototype firefighter locating systems are inexorably making their way through testing and refinements with the aim of producing field units usable on fire scenes sometime in the near future.
The Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform (WASP), under development by Globe Manufacturing Inc., is a system that combines physiological monitoring with location tracking of a firefighter, while the Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders (GLANSER) is designed as a tracking and location system. GLANSER is being built by Honeywell First Responder Products and the United States Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate.
Mark Mordecai, Globe Manufacturing’s director of business development, says that although Globe has been working on WASP since 2006, there has been a lot of action in the past 18 months that makes it a promising project. “The first step was in garment development because in order to do physiological monitoring, you have to have a garment that can be worn for a 24-hour stretch,” he says. “We had to develop new textiles to replace the cotton T-shirt that would be wearable, stretch, and integrate the electronic strap assembly.”
Mordecai notes the physiological sensors are very flat and must be in contact with a firefighter’s skin. “There’s a two-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor that measures heart and breathing rate; an acceleration sensor that measures work; and a gyro that tells posture, like crawling, standing, sitting, or flat on your back,” he says. “They are in a puck that’s connected to the shirt, which manages the Bluetooth data communications coming from the shirt. The key part is getting the data out of the building and transmitted to another device.”
A tracking unit worn on the belt of a firefighter’s bunker pants transmits information about the firefighter’s location. “Right now it’s about the size of two decks of cards,” Mordecai says. “A one-deck size will be the next iteration.”
Mordecai says the two sensor systems transmit their data through an integrated Motorola APX radio that has a digital side channel for data. “The puck on the shirt transmits its data to the tracking unit on the belt, which sends a combined tracking packet over the APX radio, which currently has only one Bluetooth receiver, to a command station-basically a laptop with a receiver,” he points out.
WASP can also transmit over Android cell phones, which have a bigger pipe to carry more data, Mordecai notes. Both the puck and the tracking unit can communicate through cell phones to a command station.
Globe has conducted a half dozen WASP fire simulation trials with fire academies and departments around the country. The first was with the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), then the Atlanta (GA) Fire Department, the Fairfax (VA) Fire Department, the Annapolis (MD) Fire Department, and Texas A&M’s Texas Engineering Extension (TEEX). Trials varied from one- to two-day test sessions.
“As a system, the product isn’t commercial yet,” Mordecai says. “We are identifying beta sites to use WASP where we will get information on its use from the fire department’s point of view. We want to know how they’ll use it in training, who would wear WASP, how it will be used, and which data they found useful.”
Mordecai says the WASP beta site deployments will happen during the next 12 months. “The really good news is that a lot is happening with WASP,” he says. “It takes a long time for this kind of technology to get ramped up, but we’re starting to see a lot more come out the end of the hose.”
GLANSER can track and locate firefighters within multistory buildings, indicating the room they are in, the floor they are on, and if they need assistance. Its design incorporates high-reliability data communications that send firefighter location information out to an incident commander (IC), maintain three-meter accuracy even when a firefighter is waiting for brief periods, and are able to scale from a few devices to hundreds to be usable in any type of incident. In addition, GLANSER is designed to work in small residential buildings, large commercial structures, tall structures, underground, and in buildings without maps.
Claire Miller, Honeywell’s vice president of marketing, says GLANSER “is still in the research and development stage where the science is being proven out by demonstrations with fire departments around the country.”
Honeywell has conducted demonstrations with five fire agencies during the past year, Miller says: the Las Vegas (NV) Fire Department, the Plymouth (MN) Fire Department, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI), the Singapore Fire Department, and the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department.
GLANSER consists of three major components: a geospatial locator unit (GLU), an incident commander unit (ICU), and an anchor panel unit (APU). The GLU is a compact, multisensor unit integrated into a firefighter’s personal protective equipment (PPE) that provides location, sensing, radio frequency ranging, and communication to a command display. It consists of an inertial movement unit (IMU), a two-antenna Doppler radar velocimeter, a 900-MHz ranging and communication module, and a pressure sensor.
The ICU allows two-dimensional and three-dimensional displays of firefighter status information to the IC. It can track multiple firefighters and display their tracks and has replay capabilities. The ICU also has map building tools that allow the system to create floor plans and can dynamically construct building maps based on a firefighter’s tracks and motifs.
The APU is a truck-mounted housing for GLU charging and initialization and also provides route initialization, power management, and reference position corrections to the locator unit.
“Typically, the GLANSER demonstrations ran for two days where firefighters ran search and rescue drills while a battalion chief at an outside location monitored them and operated the GLANSER units as if they were at an actual fire,” Miller says. “All the work was being done under simulated fire conditions.”
Miller says that Honeywell took away critical information from each of the demonstrations. “We found it is more important to fire commanders to know where firefighters are on a floor rather than which floor they are on,” she says. “Typically, they’ll communicate their floor over the radio, but where they are on the floor is much more important, especially in large structures like warehouses that have massive square footage.”
Other comments from the testing fire departments were that the GLU needs to be lighter and smaller. “We’re working on both of those elements, aiming for it to be slightly smaller than a half-loaf of bread,” Miller points out.
Honeywell also is seeking to integrate the GLU with a firefighter’s self- contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). “The idea is that fire departments would either purchase the GLU as an add-on for their existing SCBA or buy it already attached to an SCBA unit so that a firefighter is only putting on one thing,” Miller says. “We are working to be sure we can make GLANSER accurate, reliable, and affordable.”
She says Honeywell plans on running field tests in the next year but hasn’t set a time frame yet for when GLANSER will be available for the market.
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.