Rugged tools for a rugged job

It's not easy to find pieces of equipment that are both lightweight and ruggedly tough


By Michael Cayes

Mooring Tech, Inc.

This article is provided by Mooring Tech, Inc. and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of FireRescue1.

Emergency planning site Ready.gov states that the average temperature of a house fire is 1100 degrees Fahrenheit, with an eye-level temperature of 600 degrees. Wildfire Today states that during a wildfire, the air heats to approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit. Firefighters get called into these conditions on a daily basis, wearing protective gear that, in its most basic form, weighs around 45 pounds. Toss on a Halligan bar and an ax, and that number jumps to 75 pounds, plus that firefighter has lost the use of at least one of their hands while they are wielding those heavy tools.

It is clear that portability is, out of necessity, one of the determining factors in what a firefighter gets to take with them in the line of duty. Once all of the life-saving protective gear is on, fire departments must make strategic decisions about what they will send into the field with their crews.

Some devices can be very useful in auxiliary roles in the field. Panasonic’s line of rugged tablets is tested to military standard ratings for heat, cold, shock, and dust resistance. The MIL-STD-810 standards, for heat only reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not high enough to take into the thick of a wildfire, but it does work extremely well as a piece of mounted equipment in water trucks and other response vehicles. The completely dust-proof casing and shock tested tablets are perfect for the rough terrain and ash fallout that often surround wildfire areas. ToughPads can be used to provide coordinates for all vehicles out on shift as they come equipped with built-in GPS. They can also be used to update and disseminate images and messages as they come in from other devices with a higher heat resistance.

Devices such thermal imaging probes, GPS devices, cameras, or some combination of the three can transmit data to relevant members of the team to create a large network. In extremely smoky conditions, there are times where the only pair of eyes a crew has are GPS tracking devices. Thermal imaging devices can pick up sudden changes in temperature and prevent firefighters from walking into hot spots, or conversely missing smoldering hot spots in a home blaze. One helmet-mounted camera, the Oncall, has been tested and found heat resistant in situations up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, well above the average temperature of a house or wildfire. The Oncall is compatible with Panasonic’s ToughPads: it transmits audio, video, and location, so support teams are constantly aware of what is happening on the front lines. Rugged tablets can also be used to monitor the activity of drones, which have recently been used to provide aerial views over house fires and wildfires, since they give a complete picture of where resources need to be concentrated.

It’s not easy to find pieces of equipment that are both lightweight and ruggedly tough. But driven by the need for these items, companies are finding ways to produce them. The overwhelmingly positive result is firefighters who are now able to make known the previously unknown variables of each call they answer.

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