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Performance of RFID Tags in Rough Duty Environments (Structural Fires and Moisture)



James R. Lawson, Jonathan L. Kent, Anthony D. Putorti Jr.


Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have become widely used by industry, retail sales businesses, and government agencies for tracking materials, products, and inventories. This tracking technology is starting to be applied to the management of emergency responder protective equipment items. This technology has potential for helping to manage the use of emergency apparatus and may become a component of human body worn tracking and locating systems. Current standards governing the application of RFID technology are focused on the industrial sector, and no standards exist for use of the technology in the emergency response community. The Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) has conducted a series of five large scale fire tests to measure the performance of RFID tags in elevated temperature environments that may be produced by structural fires. Passive and active RFID tag designs were evaluated. Data were gathered from each of these large scale fire tests. Additionally, small scale experiments were conducted to better understand the response of these devices when exposed to elevated thermal challenges. Small scale tests were also conducted to develop a basic understanding of RFID tag performance when exposed to conditions representative of wet personal protective clothing. Results from theses evaluations show that RFID tags are thermally sensitive to elevated temperatures, and they can be destroyed if exposed directly to room fire environments. However, results also show that RFID tags may still function if they are protected by insulating materials. Challenges with wet clothing showed that passive RFID tags would not transmit more than a few millimeters when located in a wet garment. Active RFID tags continued to work while contained in wet clothing with a small loss in communications range.
Technical Note (NIST TN) - 1700
Report Number


emergency responder, firefighter, identification, radio frequency, safety, standards, fire test


Lawson, J. , Kent, J. and Putorti, A. (2011), Performance of RFID Tags in Rough Duty Environments (Structural Fires and Moisture), Technical Note (NIST TN), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed April 16, 2024)
Created May 23, 2011, Updated February 19, 2017