Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on July 1, 2015.

The Road to Smart
A new report provides a blueprint for a technological revolution in firefighting. 

NOT SO LONG AGO, firefighters wore leather helmets and wool turnout gear, and used fire apparatus pulled by animals.

While firefighting has come a long way since then, rapidly emerging technologies such as “smart” sensors, computational data analytics, and advanced communications systems have the potential to introduce another great advancement in how the fire service does its job.

“Research Roadmap for Smart Fire Fighting,” a sweeping new report released in June, ambitiously aims to chart a path forward for this new era of firefighting, where vast amounts of data can be exploited to help the fire service do its job better before, during, and after a fire incident.

“While the fire service and emergency first responders are already benefiting from today’s enhanced technologies and access to ‘big data,’ that existing level of access and usage is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Casey Grant, executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, which produced the 223-page report in collaboration with the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). “Our ever-increasing sensor-rich environment is continually generating vast amounts of potentially useful information, so that the ‘smart’ firefighters of tomorrow will be able to perform their work more effectively and efficiently than ever before.”

What this new “smart” era might look like—and how the fire service could get there—were questions NIST hoped to answer in 2013 when it provided the Foundation with funding to develop the smart firefighting report. In March 2014, the Foundation held a workshop where it invited 80 career firefighters, computer engineers, cyber-physicists, analytics experts, and others to discuss how to integrate emerging sensor and data technologies into the fire service. Over the next year, a subgroup of fire experts, along with data and technology experts, worked in pairs to co-write chapters on specific subjects ranging from communication technology and delivery methods to sensors, data collections, hardware/software interoperability, analytics, and more. The resulting document identifies current opportunities and also serves as a “roadmap” that plots a course for future research and discussion on the subject.

The “overwhelming amount of data and technology swirling around the professional community will dramatically reshape and redefine the way the fire service and emergency first responders do their jobs in the years to come,” Grant predicts. The roadmap and the work that will follow are essential “to address firefighting and emergency responder safety in the new millennium.”

JESSE ROMAN is staff writer for NFPA Journal.