Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on January 4, 2016.

Gear Envy

Jetpacks in Dubai meet wildfire detection satellites in Earth orbit.

IF YOU’RE A FIREFIGHTER prone to daydreaming, then you know all about jetpacks. What could be cooler than blasting up like a superhero to the 37th floor of a burning high-rise, kicking in the window, and rescuing an occupant in distress?

It may soon be a reality. In November, the Dubai Civil Defense (DCD) ordered 20 twin-engine jetpacks and two simulators from the Martin Aircraft Company to help firefighters combat skyscraper fires. The packs cost $35,000 each and can carry about 260 pounds. They can be flown remotely or with a pilot.

Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is one of the world’s richest cities and boasts some of its tallest buildings, including the 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa, the tallest on Earth. “[Dubai] has always been a world leader in adapting new technology to improve and save people’s lives,” Lt. Colonel Ali Almutawa of the DCD said in a press release.

​Martin Jetpack Flight Demonstration 6 December 2015 Shenzhen, China. ​Video Courtesy: Martin Aircraft YouTube Channel

According to the release, the packs could be used for surveillance, initial intervention, lifting heavy payloads, high-rise rescues, and rapid deployment of specialist teams.

While the jetpacks won’t be delivered until early this year, the DCD could have used them back in November when a fire broke out on an upper floor of the 32-story Regal Tower. Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze even without the use of jetpacks.

Detecting wildfire from space

In more news from the future, NASA is working on a satellite detection system that will alert officials to the start of a wildfire anywhere on the planet.

The system, dubbed FireSat, uses a network of 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors on satellites orbiting the Earth to detect fires as small as 35 feet across, according to NASA. Within three minutes of detecting a fire, FireSat would notify local emergency responders. The satellites’ sensors could also locate explosions and other potentially dangerous events involving high heat around the globe, NASA said.

“Delays in detection can lead to rapid escalation of a fire and dramatic growth of the cost of suppression,” said Robert Staehle, the lead designer of FireSat at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The system we envision will work day and night for fires anywhere in the world.”

The FireSat system became viable only recently, thanks to advances in commercial microelectronics and by software technology developed to give Mars rovers and Earth orbiters more autonomy in their science observations, Staehle said.

NASA hopes to have the FireSat system in orbit and operational by June of 2018.

​JESSE ROMAN is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Courtesy Martin Aircraft Company.