– Executive Summary –

A fire officer’s ability to read smoke at the scene of a residential or commercial structure fire to determine the fire’s location contributes to the success or failure of the entire incident, possibly leading to injuries or deaths of the firefighters performing any interior operations. This thesis describes the difficulties that fire officers encounter while trying to locate the seed of the fire; examines the consequences of firefighters’ not having an accurate location of the fire, such as firefighter disorientation; and offers one possible solution. This thesis establishes the issue while building the foundation for a solution, leaving the evaluation of alternative solutions to future researchers.

In the early 2000s, a pivotal study revealed that firefighters do not have 100 percent accurate information at the location of a fire. The study uncovered 17 documented incidents between 1979 and 2001 in which firefighters did not have an accurate location for the fire, resulting in 23 firefighter fatalities.[1] As a result of this report and subsequent injuries and deaths, the fire industry has worked diligently to form solutions that could decrease injuries resulting from firefighters’ becoming disoriented. Some of the solutions created through the years have helped in different ways. The challenge for most firefighters is that almost no two buildings are alike. Even businesses that have multiple locations are designed differently because of the physical layout of the land parcel or the grading of the land, among other variables. Therefore, while some solutions may work for one building type, they may not work in another. Therefore, universal solutions—such as the design presented in this thesis—are needed.

The premise of this thesis is to combine existing technologies for the betterment of firefighters. For example, smoke sensors identify not only the presence of smoke but also temperature and smoke density; GPS sensors can lead firefighters to the hottest smoke alarm; and a syncing platform, such as an Arduino Nano base, combines all of the technologies to send readings and results to a larger fire alarm panel. The panel would use Wi-Fi connectivity to link thermal imagining cameras to route firefighters to and from the fire.

This thesis also references the 2007 Super Sofa fire in Charleston, South Carolina, which claimed the lives of nine brave men. Their deaths were a result of disorientation—the firefighters located the fire, but the building construction and amount of oxygen feeding the fire caused the fire to grow rapidly. The firefighters quickly learned that they did not have the manpower or water supply in the building to battle the blaze, and during their attempt to exit the building, they became disoriented and, unfortunately, died. While the proposed technological solution might not have saved the lives of these firefighters, it might have given them a better chance of exiting the building than they had on their own.

The technologies described in this thesis are not intended to endorse a product or company for profitable gains but proposed to create a safer environment for firefighters and reduce the loss of life and property from fires. Fires cost Americans billions of dollars annually, so a product that allows firefighters to find and extinguish a fire faster, while also providing them with technologies that help them enter and exit the building more safely, will benefit both citizens and the fire industry.

[1] William R. Mora, U.S. Firefighter Disorientation Study: 1979–2001 (San Antonio: San Antonio Fire Department, 2003), http://www.trispeceyegear.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/‌Firefighter‌Disorientation‌Study.pdf.

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