By Alan M. Petrillo
The Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform (WASP™) system developed by Globe Manufacturing Company has undergone live fire testing at the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) and has furnished both Globe and the IFSI with important data that bring WASP to the brink of deployment among fire departments around the country.
Mark Mordecai, director of business development for Globe Manufacturing, says that WASP addresses two critical problem areas identified on the InterAgency Board’s (IAB) research and development priority list: emergency responder body-worn integrated electronics system development and 3D tracking of personnel.
|1 Globe Manufacturing’s Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform (WASP™) system uses a flame-resistant, moisture-wicking base layer shirt that incoporates a Zeph BioHarness™. (Photo courtesy of Globe Manufacturing Inc.)|
WASP consists of three main elements: a flame-resistant, moisture-wicking, semifitted base layer shirt; a Zeph BioHarness™; and a belt-mounted location tracking unit. Mordecai notes that the base layer shirt incorporates the Zeph BioHarness and is comfortable for firefighters to wear continuously for a full 24-hour shift as well as durable to withstand normal firefighter activities and multiple washes. An embedded strap with a low-profile buckle closure contains electronic sensors and adjusts to allow the user to set it once for functionality and comfort and then unbuckle for easier donning and doffing.
The belt-mounted tracking unit, using technology provided by TRX Systems, permits ready integration with Android cell phones. A Windows-based command station receives data from live sessions or logged data from memory and provides tools to rapidly analyze user physiological response over time, in addition to showing user location and tracks. The physiological monitoring and indoor location are tracked at the same time by the system.
|2 The belt-mounted tracking unit in the WASP system uses technology developed by TRX Systems. (Photo courtesy of Globe Manufacturing Inc.)|
“Our goal is to first deliver WASP systems to training academies around the country to develop firefighting safety training where the academies use the system as part of their curriculum,” Mordecai says. “The first system shipped went to IFSI, one of the premier training centers in the United States and which has a federal grant to study a physiological monitoring and indoor tracking system.”
Mordecai notes that IFSI tested WASP in a phase of its project that looked at heat and particulate exposures of firefighters exposed to training fires. “They used different fuel loads and had multiple teams performing fire suppression,” he says, “and used WASP to measure heat flux, gas, and particulate exposures-especially those particulates that got onto firefighters’ turnout gear, their skin, and into their bloodstream.”
Gavin P. Horn, director of research at the IFSI, notes that IFSI is the statutory training academy for the state of Illinois and also is a part of the University of Illinois. He says the IFSI’s involvement with Globe and WASP goes back approximately four years to when an IFSI professor, Denise Smith, worked with Globe at Skidmore College, where she was a professor. “She worked on some of the early components,” Horn says, “and we did some initial testing with the Savoy (IL) Fire Department, where I’m a fire engineer.”
|3 This laptop screen shot shows the monitoring information for four firefighters during a live fire training scenario. (Photo courtesy of Globe Manufacturing Inc.)|
Horn points out that the IFSI recently purchased the latest iteration of the WASP system to integrate with several training courses at the academy. “That first deployment was for cardiovascular and chemical exposure risks in training fires, with a focus on the physiological status monitoring component of the system,” he says. “We collected heart and breathing rates and used the motion sensing capabilities of the system. During the fire training events and the rehab and recovery portion of the study, heart rates from WASP told us a lot about the level of activity that the firefighters were undertaking in live fire training and also during their recovery without any added instrumentation.”
The WASP system was tested through three different scenarios, Horn says. “We wanted to compare different exposures in common live fire training scenarios, so we had a pallet and straw fire in a concrete and steel building,” he says, “and compared the data to an engineered wood products fire in a concrete and steel building, and finally a theatrical smoke scenario, which is fake smoke and no heat.”
Six different groups of four firefighters participated in each of the scenarios. IFSI researchers left an off day in between scenarios to minimize the likelihood of cross contamination, Horn says. “We also had two groups of five instructors who went through three scenarios on each of the scenario days. They (each instructor team) were in the same scenario three separate times, which could change their data profile of exposure.”
Horn says that IFSI researchers “will be crunching the data for some time yet. We wrapped up on June 30, 2016, and hope to be able to release an initial report early in 2017. We will share the information as quickly as we can, but we have to go through a peer review process that involves triple checking the data.”
|4 An Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) researcher readies a WASP monitoring laptop while firefighters get set to don structural firefighting gear and take part in live fire testing. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Fire Service Institute.)|
Mordecai notes that the newest iteration of the WASP system uses an algorithm developed by the United States Army to provide estimated core body temperature based on heart rate, heart rate availability, activity level, and time. “We can see what the firefighter is experiencing and what the cumulative load is on him,” he says. “In a training setting, we can look at those numbers and pull the firefighter out if need be and make sure he’s okay.”
The indoor 3D location and tracking in WASP has new software and hardware, Mordecai adds, “now being cloud-based, transmitted from a location tracking unit worn on the belt. Before, it was the size of a fat deck of cards, but now it’s a sixth of that size and can be worn on the belt of the pants or in a pager carrier. It has become inconspicuous in terms of size and form factor.”
Instead of having transmissions going through the side BUS on a fire communications radio, the transmitter sends data to the cloud through a cell phone in the firefighter’s pocket, and the laptop pulls the data from the cloud, Mordecai says. “The side BUS on a communications radio is a narrow pipe for data, and our prior version had a scalability issue where we had to limit how many people can transmit at the same time. But going from cell phones into the cloud, we now have a huge pipe and can have as many people on the system as needed.”
|5 IFSI researchers study the readouts on their laptop during live fire testing of the WASP system at the IFSI’s training center. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Fire Service Institute.)|
Mordecai also sees WASP as being used effectively in preplanning. “You can use the system to walk through a facility and identify where the stairwells and doors are, where hazardous materials are located, and build a map of the structure that’s then loaded into the cloud,” he says. “If you have to respond there, you have an accurate map to use that allows operations to be more effective.”
Horn notes that the IFSI is discussing how to implement the WASP system in its classes. “It might be used in our advanced breathing apparatus class,” he says, “or in our confidence courses. It should be useful in showing breathing pattern changes and heart rates as firefighters become used to their self-contained breathing apparatus. Currently, IFSI has the ability to outfit 24 firefighters for physiological monitoring and eight firefighters for location tracking.”
|6 The 3D tracking feature of the WASP system allows incident commanders to identify the location of all WASP-wearing firefighters, as shown on this monitor during a live fire training scenario. (Photo courtesy of Globe Manufacturing Inc.)|
He adds that WASP could also be used in the IFSI responder intervention team course, which would allow instructors to provide feedback quickly to firefighters taking part in search drills and disorientation courses. “An instructor will be able to show the firefighter he went past a door three times and didn’t identify it,” Horn says, “or past a window five times without identifying it. It can show them search effectiveness and allow them to compare what they did with what they thought they did. WASP also can be used to identify an optimal search path.”
Horn believes that WASP can be a strong element in many fire training courses. “If we do this the right way,” he says, “there’s an incredible amount of information for students as feedback that we can’t do right now.”
Mordecai says that WASP is the only commercial system in the world developed for occupational use. “We think we’ll see a significant number of WASP systems going into training over the next 12 to 18 months,” he says. “After that, it will be up to departments to determine how they might use WASP in their operations.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and 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.