The American government has made multiple advances to improve fire prevention techniques. However, incidents of fire still prevail. For instance, 53,685 fires burned over 2.60 million acres in 2023.
That’s why the fire industry invested in creating advanced firefighting equipment. This initiative aimed to help enhance the effectiveness of every fire rescue operation.
A few examples would be the use of visors in helmets to block heat, assistive technology for deaf firefighters, wearable devices to determine toxin levels, etc. Other examples include thermal cameras, sustainable fire trucks, and drone technology. However, not all firefighting equipment is considered a holy grail for the industry.
In this blog, we’ll first discuss two firefighting equipment failures that eventually led to lawsuits. After that, we’ll talk about three successful pieces of equipment that changed fire rescue operations forever.
History of Firefighting Equipment: Failed Products Turned Lawsuits
One thing that stands out when we talk about firefighting equipment and technology is its failure. Take a look at the two examples of firefighting equipment failure that led to lawsuits:
#1. Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF)
For many years, the navy, civilian, and airport firefighters used AFFF to suppress Class B fuel fires. The effectiveness of this firefighting equipment made it a favorite among fire rescue personnel. Technically, AFFF created a layer of foam that cut off the oxygen supply from the fire source to extinguish it and prevent reignition.
However, they didn’t know that AFFF contained a high level of per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS). This forever chemical stayed in the firefighters’ bodies for many years, leading to cancer, increased cholesterol levels, decreased fertility, etc. Today, the use of AFFF is only reserved for extreme fire situations as a last resort.
The worst part is that manufacturers used PFAS in AFFF even after knowing about its side effects. Hence, the firefighters became furious once they learned about this misconduct.
To seek compensation for damages like medical bills, loss of income, permanent disabilities, financial distress, etc., the firefighters filed a lawsuit. This AFFF lawsuit by Navy personnel and other firefighters has turned into multidistrict litigation and is still ongoing. According to TruLaw, the actual compensation amount will depend on the plaintiff’s negotiation skills, level of exposure, medical proof provided, etc.
#2. Turnout Gear
Another example of equipment failure happened due to the use of PFAS in personal protective equipment or turnout gear. These included fire-retardant gloves, helmets, etc. While turnout gear was created to save firefighters from hazards, it turned out to be toxic when worn.
The use of PFAS in this equipment leads many firefighters to develop an increased risk of cancer, kidney failure, etc. The manufacturers argued that they used fluorinated compounds to enhance the gear’s ability to repel fire and oil. However, this decision led to a sharp increase in cancer deaths among fire rescue personnel.
Hence, the firefighters were furious with the manufacturers and distributors because they failed to warn them about the potential health hazards. They filed personal injury and product liability turnout gear lawsuits against companies like 3M, DuPont, etc.
These plaintiffs seek compensation for the damages caused to their health and finances. Moreover, they aim to change testing standards when it comes to PFAS usage.
What Technologies Changed How Fire and Rescue Personnel Operate?
Unlike turnout gear and AFFF failures, other firefighting equipment has successfully changed the industry. Take a look at three such innovative pieces of equipment that changed how firefighters operate.
#1. Thermal Cameras
About 96 firefighters lost their lives while on duty in 2022 due to structure fires. Thankfully, this was a sharp decrease from the 157 deaths in 1977. One of the main reasons was the introduction of a new technology that helped prevent any injuries or deaths during such situations.
Thermal imaging cameras (TIC) could show fire service personnel what lies beyond the thick fires. Similar to the military’s night vision, TICs work by allowing firefighters to see heat radiation.
These cameras can detect heat signatures inside a burning structure instead of showing visible light. The device can then convert this radiation into a visible image showing temperature variations. Ideally, TICs help firefighters detect any overheating electrical devices or people stuck in a burning structure.
The benefits of using a thermal imagery system include the following:
- Enhanced visibility during fire operations
- Early detection of fire risks
- Remote monitoring for real-time assessment
Every firefighter now has a personal TIC to perform primary searches, ensure self-rescue, and enhance situational awareness. With the help of this equipment, they can easily determine potential fire risks.
#2. Drone Technology
Sometimes, firefighters require an aerial view of the situation to perform their operational duties correctly. That’s where drone technology comes into the picture. With the use of these devices, firefighters can gain critical situational awareness. As a result, it can help them save lives during emergency fire situations.
Ever since their introduction in 2011, drone technologies have become the ‘eyes in the sky’ for fire rescue personnel. These tools help firefighters detect structural issues during fires at urban centers and high-rise buildings.
Fire departments use drones to reach difficult places and gain a thermal assessment. Moreover, this technology can help monitor mission progress and ensure smooth nighttime operations. All these help the firefighters gain insight into the situation and enhance their firefighting mission for rapid deployment of search and rescue.
During the 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fires, the Oakland Fire Department used heat-seeking drones that helped reduce fire-related deaths. Since then, firefighting drones have evolved and are being equipped with the latest technology. For instance, they have been equipped with thermal imaging devices to improve visibility and see through thick smoke.
Hence, firefighters can use this to acquire quick aerial information cost-effectively. Drones can create a complete holistic view and overlaid area topography of fire scenes and show multiple vantage points. Today, these devices can pinpoint hidden fires and find people trapped in buildings.
#3. Sustainable Trucks
As the world slowly ventured into sustainability, the fire rescue industry also wanted to take part. For instance, various fire departments across the country have been seeking cleaner, greener, and quieter vehicles. A uniquely designed electric fire truck could meet all their needs.
The demand for such trucks is growing due to the introduction of changing environmental standards and initiatives. Ideally, these trucks have benefits like:
- Minimizing the cost of fuel use
- Improved safety for firefighters
- Generating less noise while driving
- Less emission of carbon footprint
Currently, there are two types of electric fire trucks in the industry. The parallel-electric drive train operates on an independent internal combustion mode or all-electric engine. Similarly, a range-extended truck works on a generator and battery power.
In 2019, a prototype worth USD 6 million was used in various fire rescue operations. Fast forward three years and the first operational electric truck is being used by the LAFD. In conclusion, technology has made its mark in the fire rescue industry and will continue to do so. That’s because of technological advancements in thermal cameras, drone technology, and sustainable trucks. Even then, PFAS usage in AFFF and turnout gear remains a reminder of firefighting equipment failure.