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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 ground.  A variety of new sensors, computing services, and other IOT technologies are coming on the market; technologies that can reduce those numbers.  Doing so, however, requires the abilities to 1) collect and fuse data from a variety of sensors, turn that data into actionable information, and 3) communicate that information to the firefighters and incident commanders.  

These kinds of abilities are just beginning in firefighting; and, with it, is the emergence of a new kind of cyber-physical-social system, which we call Smart FireFighting (SFF).   SFF focuses on using evolving, sensor and other IOT technologies to collect real-time data globally, analyze that data centrally, and distribute the results, where needed, on the fire ground.  Results may go to individual firefighters, team captains, or incident commanders as needed.  Conceptually, those results provide a “local” picture of the current state of the fire – local means relevant to the person using that picture to make a decision.    

Engineering, developing, and deploying these technologies will require new measurement tools and information standards. This year, the SFF project will focus on the tools and standards for three types of smart sensors: buildings, drones, hoses. The final 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.


Objective: By 2019, 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 FY17 and FY20, respectively.

Task 1: Smart building technology. 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 if a fire is detected.  That information is currently governed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association standard (NEMA SB30).  A long-term objective of this task is to extend the capability of the NEMA standard to enable integration with Tasks 2 and 3. 

Task 2: Smart fire fighter equipment.  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, the 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; detect survivors; and, measure temperature, heat flux, gases, and smoke concentrations. One means to provide these capabilities would be through the use of  instrumented mobile robots. Most of the required sensors already exist; and they been used in numerous realistic environments.  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 sensors as well as the means of implementing the use of the sensors to ensure that the implementation means 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 for tactical decisions will be communicated in near 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 flow rate, 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 development[5] 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.

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.
Created December 4, 2012, Updated October 16, 2019