Fla. fire dept. shows off its new bomb-squad robot
The new robot can climb stairs and its arm is stronger and more dexterous than the Orlando Fire Department's older model
By Tess Sheets
ORLANDO — Stronger, faster, more agile.
That’s how Orlando fire officials described the newest robotic addition to their arson and bomb squad.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer joined Orlando Fire Department Chief Roderick Williams for a demonstration of the robot Tuesday morning while the arson/bomb detection team highlighted other tools — including “Nessie,” an arson canine.
Operating the machine from a video game-like joystick, Lt. John Jockin — while wearing a 50-lb bomb-resistant suit— lifted the robot’s arm and swiveled its thermal imaging camera.
The roughly $300,000 investment unveiled Tuesday was purchased through the agency’s equipment and general operations fund as part of its annual budget.
The new robot is expected to help firefighters with a wide range of incidents and hazards. It can climb stairs and its arm is stronger and more dexterous than the agency’s older model, Williams said.
“It increases mobility and speed,” he said. “It climbs and scales, assessing vehicles in all terrain.”
The agency got its first robot through a grant following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That one is stationed on the east side of the city while the newer machine awaits deployment at the downtown Fire Station One on West Central Boulevard — the squad’s central hub — “so we can cover the entire city,” Williams said.
OFD’s arson/bomb squad is the only fire department-based unit of its kind in the state. Its seven members are given FBI and law enforcement training to work in tandem with local officers in the event of a bomb threat or arson investigation, Williams said.
“It’s very important that we always stay ahead of the curve before threats, so that when it does happen, we can respond appropriately,” Deputy Chief Trenton Campbell said.
The new device will work alongside other resources used to respond to and investigate fires.
Nessie, the 2-year-old arson detection canine, demonstrated her nimble nose Tuesday, sniffing out the one container in a line of five that held fire-starting evidence.
The dog’s handler, Lt. Jason Revoldt, tried distracting the yellow Labrador Retriever by pointing to the other containers, which held items like burned carpet and wood. But Nessie is trained to identify a fire accelerant, like gasoline.
State Farm Insurance has donated more than $75,000 to help fund the department’s canine program by paying for dog training and room and board for both the dog and handler. Nessie has been a part of the squad since April.
The bomb squad’s drones were also on display Tuesday. The devices provide the bomb squad will sky views that reduce dangers to first responders, officials said.
The devices also can be used in search-and-rescue missions and to inspect suspicious devices.
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