Catalonia: pioneer in security for firemen

Brand new technology could be of great service to Catalan fire-fighters in the near future. It would monitor vital signs made by fire-fighters working in emergency situations

Emma Vila / CNA

August 5, 2010 11:25 PM

A new system is likely to improve the security of Catalan fire-fighters. It will work as follows: a biothermic sensor will transmit vital signs from the fire-fighters in real time. The prototype will be applied in urban interventions, like the ones made in buildings or car parks, where fire-fighters work under higher temperatures. The Home Office Department of Catalonia, the Secretary of Telecommunications and the medical authorities have been working on the technology since 2008 and the results of rehearsals have been very positive. However, it has never been applied in real cases and the date on which the system will officially be in use remains to be determined.
The so-called “firemen biomonitorization” is part of a wider technological project called ETRICAT 2009/2011, which innovates in sensor nets. The technology could improve more than just firemen’s security. It could also be used in other areas, such as logistics, domotics (a growing trend towards automation of household appliances, etc.) or the control of catering systems.

Both the device that fire-fighters will carry with them and the transmission of the data to a control centre are still being tested. The Head of the Medical Emergency Group of the Catalan Firemen, Miquel Vidal, stated that the results of the first set of tests have been satisfactory. These rehearsals, however, have been applied to staged situations, not real ones, which is why the management explained that they still have to set a date for the system to start being operational.

According to the technology manager at Sensing & Control, Àngel Amores, the process of reading vital signs (such as beatings, body temperature or body position) is the following: a biometrical device which firemen carry with them transmits data to the Tetra machine using Bluetooth technology. The data is then sent to the information control centre through the firemen’s telecommunications net, Rescat, and responses are adapted accordingly. Software has even been developed which enables officials in the control centre to visualise the firemen and women.

Urban fires

With the intention of applying this technology in cases of urban emergencies, like fires in buildings, offices, car parks or industrial zones, Miquel Vidal said that, “it is in urban fires that the fireman encounters situations of significant thermic stress.”

Vidal stressed the fact that, in these cases, fire-fighters must handle temperatures of 800 degree Celsius, while in forest fires the temperature reaches 50 degree Celsius.
As regards fires inside buildings, they are also working to overcome the limitations of GPS systems, which are not currently operative indoors. In this area, however, Amores indicated that the research still has two years to go.

The promoters of the initiative

The Univeritat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Sensing & Control and the i2CAT Foundation, along with the Home Office Department of Catalonia, the Secretary of Telecommunications and Society of Information, and the Center of Telecommunications and Information Technolgies have participated in this project.