Firefighter Safety Technology Gains WPI Honor

WORCESTER—Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) was honored today at the 23rd Annual “Firefighter of the Year” award ceremony with the 2012 State Fire Marshal’s Award, which recognizes significant contributions to the fire service made by those outside of the service.

WPI professors and ongoing multidisciplinary research team members, John Orr, David Cyganski, James Duckworth (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Kathy Notarianni (Fire Protection Engineering) accepted the award from Gov. Deval Patrick, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Public Safety and Security Secretary Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, and Fire Marshal Stephen Coan at today’s ceremony, held at Mechanics Hall in Worcester. The ceremony also honored Worcester Firefighter Jon Davies Sr., who was killed in the line of duty one year ago, and firefighters from Worcester and14 other communities for bravery, courage and heroism. The National Anthem and other musical selections were performed by the WPI Brass Ensemble, under the direction of Douglas Weeks, administrator of music at WPI.

In December 1999 the city of Worcester lost six firefighters after they were unable to find their way out of the Worcester Cold Storage warehouse, which was destroyed by fire. Professors Orr, Cyganski and Duckworth set out to develop technology to help command officers locate firefighters precisely, in three dimensions, inside buildings, and to guide them to safety or rescue them, if necessary. Prototypes for a personnel locator device have been developed and extensively tested.
In developing a solution to this  daunting challenge, WPI has worked closely with the Worcester Fire Department and the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, and benefitted from major awards from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

More recently, with Fire Protection Engineering head Kathy A. Notarianni joining the WPI firefighter safety and technology research team, it has developed a sensor that would give a firefighter advance warning of “flashover” conditions, in which combustible materials in a room simultaneously erupt in flames, and are working on a new device that will warn firefighters of the presence of toxic gases.

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