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Smart Firefighting Project


In 2011, the fire departments in the United States responded to more than 484,5001 structure fires. These fires resulted in approximately 2,640 civilian fatalities, 15,635 injuries and property losses of approximately $9.7 billion dollars. In addition, more than 30,0002 fire fighters were injured on the fire ground3. New opportunities to fuse emerging sensor and computing technologies with building control systems and fire fighting equipment and apparatus are emerging. The resulting cyber-physical systems will revolutionize fire fighting by collecting data globally, centrally processing the information, and distributing the results locally. Engineering, developing, and deploying these systems will require new measurement tools and standards. This project will focus on the needed tools and standards in three areas: smart building and robotic sensor technologies, smart fire fighter equipment and robotic mapping technologies, and smart fire department apparatus and equipment. The results of this project will (1) mitigate total social costs of fires at both the community and the building scales, and (2) integrate cyber-physical systems into innovative fire protection technologies.


[1] Karter, M.J., Jr., Fire Loss in the United States During 2011, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169-7471, August 2012, www.nfpa.org

[2] Karter, M.J., Jr, and Molis, J.L., Firefighter Injuries in the United States, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169-7471, October 2012, www.nfpa.org

[3] In 2011, fire fighter injuries totaled 70,090 of which 30,505 or 43.5% occurred on the fire ground.



Objective: By 2015, to develop the measurement science that enables fusion of cyber-physical systems from buildings, apparatus, personal protective equipment, and robotics that enhances situation awareness, operational effectiveness, and fire fighter safety.

What is the new technical idea? The new technical idea is to collect data globally across the fire ground and response area, centrally analyze the information, and distribute the results as decision tools to fire fighting teams and incident command as appropriate. Each year, unwanted fires result in more than $300B of costs to the U.S. economy, numerous civilian and fire fighter injuries and deaths, and significant property loss. Fire-related cyber-physical systems have the potential to reduce these impacts considerably. But, they are used only sparingly and sporadically in residential buildings and by the fire service. This project will demonstrate how to reverse this situation and help achieve that potential.

To do so, the project will implement a technical idea containing three parts. First, it will demonstrate how new sensor technologies can be used to augment existing building controls and fire equipment. Second, it will demonstrate how computer technologies can be used to augmentexisting fire models with real-time sensor data to provide powerful decision-making tools. Third, it will fuse these disparate cyber-physical capabilities into a multi-dimensional integrated system that enables smart fire fighting at three distinct levels: the individual fire fighter level, the fire fighting team level, and the incident commander level. A select number of technology developments will be demonstrated within and across these levels through the Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) Testbed being developed at NIST Gaithersburg.

The results of this project will (1) mitigate total social costs of fires at both the community and the building scales, and (2) realize an important part of NIST’s strategic roadmap on innovative fire protection technologies.4

What is the research plan? The research plan will focus on three tasks: smart building technology and robotics, smart fire fighter equipment and robotics,5 and smart fire department apparatus and equipment. Successful implementation will require a coordinated systems approach with clear overarching objectives to ensure alignment across tasks. Each task will have a distinct impact on fire losses, but will be fully integrated with the other tasks. Each of the three tasks is briefly described below, with emphasis on both short-term and long-term objectives by FY15 and FY18, respectively.

Task 1: Smart building technology and robotics. Automated building sensors and controls are common in commercial buildings. They are just emerging, however, in residential buildings through home automation and energy conservation efforts, including smart grid. From a fire perspective, these residential buildings will have some environmental sensors and minimum controls that are associated with the fire alarm control panel, if one exists. This panel collects and analyzes fire-related information from the sensors and can actuate sprinklers if a fire is detected. That information is currently governed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association standard (NEMA SB30). A short-term objective of this task is to extend the capability of the NEMA standard to enable integration with Tasks 2 and 3.

The main objective of this task is to augment existing environmental sensors with fixed and mobile robotic technologies that are capable of both autonomous sensing and actions. These capabilities have been demonstrated in multiple application domains including disaster response and domestic assistance, and in multiple technology competitions including RoboCup Rescue6 and RoboCup@Home.7 We intend to use the next RoboCup competition to promote innovation in the development of fixed and mobile robots that can sense and suppress incipient fires in residential buildings. Simultaneously, we will standardize test methods for sensing and suppression by 2015 through the ASTM, which has proven successful for similar applications. In a later phase of this project, we will ultimately incorporate emerging building sensors to enhance the capability and reliability of the robots and to communicate building information to fire fighters en-route and on-scene.8

Task 2: Smart fire fighter equipment and robotics. Operational effectiveness of the entire fire fighting team is hampered by poor situational awareness. Situational awareness includes (1) the status, location, and actions of all the fire fighters and (2) the current status and likely evolution of the fire and the structure. The short-term objective is to develop and test sensors and communications protocols that can provide real-time information on fire fighter location, fire fighter vital signs, and environmental conditions to the fire fighter, incident commander, and other fire fighters. The availability of such sensors and protocols would enable a transformational change in the use of information by the fire fighter and incident commander, enabling safer and more effective operations.

The long-term objective of this task (to be achieved in a later phase of this project) is to develop the technical capability to create building maps; detecting survivors; and, measuring temperature, heat flux, gases, and smoke concentrations. To provide these capabilities, we will equip mobile robots with a variety of sensors. Most of the required robots and sensors already exist; and they been used in numerous realistic environments with obstacles. However, they have not been demonstrated to perform in a fire fighting environment. A suite of standards will be developed to certify the technical capabilities of the robots, and to ensure that the robots and sensors can operate in structural fire environments (high temperatures, heat fluxes, smoke, and water), as well as realistic communication environments, which can be highly challenging.

This information and guidance on tactical decisions will be communicated in real time to the incident commander (IC) and fire fighters as appropriate. . . 

Task 3: Smart fire fighting apparatus and equipment. Fire fighting apparatus such as engines or ladder trucks are expensive. Equipment carried on the apparatus and deployed during the incident, while not as expensive, is critical to a successful response. Neither has leveraged emerging cyber technologies to any significant degree. Yet, it is clear that the use of such technologies can reduce physical effort, increase incident awareness, and save peoples’ lives. Consider, for example, fire hoses. Water pressure, water timing, and water quantity are all critical variables to ensure fire fighter safety, yet they are not measured. Automated collection of these and variables associated with other critical equipment can improve operational effectiveness and reduce injuries. In addition, the availability of such data will improve greatly the post-incident lessons learned.

In this task, the focus is on two types of data: on-board incident data and integrated sensor data. We will continue development9 of on-board, incident data systems that can display information about the building geometry, fixed fire systems (such as hydrant locations, and building access points), fire history, and current extent of fire severity. Much of this information is available today, but very little of it is in digital forms that can be communicated electronically. Additionally, none of it is standardized. We will begin to develop the tools and standards necessary to capture, transmit, and display this information.

Sensor networks deployed on fire department apparatus and equipment can substantially improve fireground situational awareness and provide automated records for after-action analysis or standardized incident reporting (such as NFIRS reports, e.g.). Performance of sensor networks will be improved with the development of guidance on sensor network design (required density of sensors, type, sampling frequency, synchronization, etc.) as well as sensor data is collected in raw or processed format.


[4] NIST Special Publication 1130, Reduced Risk of Fire in Buildings and Communities: A Strategic Roadmap to Prioritize and Guide Research, April 2012.

[5] This project is a direct continuation of the FY12 Exploratory Project entitled Enabling Robotic Fire Intervention Standards, led by Averill and Jacoff.

[6] http://www.robocuprescue.org/

[7] http://www.robocupathome.org/

[8] NIST has a decade of experience in this area through its work on the Virtual Cybernetic Buildings.

[9] Jones, W., Holmberg, D., Davis, W., Bushby, S., Reed, K. “Workshop to Define Information Needed by Emergency Responders During Building Emergencies.” NISTIR 7193, Jan. 2005.


Major Accomplishments:


  • Smart Fire Fighting Testbed constructed as part of Smart City. Testbed will allow development of cyber-physical systems for fire fighting as an integral component of Smart City.