When Hateya (a Belgium company) announced that they have developed technology that helps firefighters navigate burning buildings via augmented reality glasses, I immediately reached out to one of my friends who is a
firefighter hero to ask him his impression is of this new technology. Here is what he had to say:
Very, very cool technology! I love the concept. Accountability on the fire ground is key!!! There are some other “tracking” devices on the market but they aren’t as interactive.
There are instances where Firefighters get disoriented and that’s where you get into trouble. And, it’s usually in desperate/emergent situations where this happens. As you may know from your Leadership Atlanta training, we are taught to never go in alone and to always maintain contact with your partner/company. That contact “should be” physical contact with your partner or on the same hoseline/tool. If you are performing a search of a residence, it’s acceptable to just maintain verbal contact. For example, your partner could stay in the hallway of a residence while you search a bedroom or bathroom. This would help prevent clustering and getting tangled up and would also help expedite the search.
I could see where the ComeBack system would help if you get separated from your partner/company. Again, this “should” only happen in an extreme case where there is a collapse or sudden change in fire conditions and the crew gets separated. We train to prevent this situation. AND, at the first realization that you or someone in your crew is not accounted for, a “Mayday” shall be called over the radio and the Rapid Intervention Crew/Team (RIC) is activated to enter the structure to search for the disoriented Firefighter. I think the ComeBack should be used in conjunction with a RIC if conditions allow it. The video doesn’t demonstrate that practice. I know it’s just an introduction, but my first thought was “Why is this dude by himself and without a hoseline?” Maybe they have different Standards of Practice in Belgium, but I doubt it.
Where I see this technology being most beneficial is in large cities or areas with warehouses and high-rise buildings. Again, we don’t train to enter structures or large areas without a partner and while maintaining constant contact but folks to get separated. Also, there are documented cases (9/11 being the best example) of radio communication being compromised in large buildings. Hell, we have that problem in some neighborhoods where I work! Perhaps the ComeBack would be a benefit in those situations.
I think this is a great place to start with this new and amazing technology! I’m glad people are thinking outside the box and figuring out how to use technology to make life better and jobs safer…not just status updates or playing “little brother.” It makes me remember the videos of children with disabilities using an iPad and beginning to interact like never before.
Also, I’m curious as to how the actual glasses would work with existing breathing apparatus. For example, in order for me to wear glasses instead of contact lenses, I have to order a “prescription mask” with a set of glasses built in to the face piece.