NASA-DEVELOPED ANTI-FIRE DEVICE SOON TO BE AVAILABLE TO FIREFIGHTERS
Jim Cast, Lanee Cobb
Through an exclusive patent licensing agreement with
NASA, a company in Buffalo, NY, will manufacture and market a
fire imager device that will aid firefighters to see
invisible flames and help them navigate through smoky buildings.
Called FIRESCAPE, the device can image the invisible
flames of alcohol and hydrogen fires during the daytime as
well as see through smoke. It also can find the origin of
visible fires. The company, called SafetySCAN, which
specializes in fire safety electronic products, will make the
device the first affordable commercial product for fire
imaging. The company hopes to have it available to U.S. fire
departments by the spring of next year.
“SafetySCAN has a very compatible product line that is
already targeted to the fire fighting industry. This allows
for easy incorporation of NASA fire imager technology, said
Brenda Smith, from Stennis Technology Transfer Office.
Used like binoculars, FIRESCAPE has no moving parts
exposed to the environment. Optics are sealed within a case
to protect them from smoke and grit. Also, the device is
operational in less than five seconds and can be used for two
hours continuously without recharging. It also can withstand
the rigors of industrial and fire service.
Firefighters who deal with hydrogen or alcohol fires
typically have to rely on an antiquated “broom method” to
locate invisible flames. This method involves holding out a
corn straw broom, like that used to sweep a kitchen or porch,
waving it around an area and hoping it catches fire first.
Using FIRESCAPE, firefighters will now be able to remain at a
safe distance and forgo risky methods of finding invisible fires.
In addition to safety, two of the primary benefits of
using the fire imager are the simple operation of the device
and the low purchase cost of $5,000 per unit. The fire
imager is easy to operate with a push button on/off switch
and a button to compensate for sunny and cloudy conditions.
The device was originally developed by two engineers at
NASAs John C. Stennis Space Center, MS for use with fighting
hydrogen and alcohol fires, which have invisible flames in
daylight due to their clean-burning chemical makeup. Since
Stennis uses more than one million gallons of hydrogen per
month in its rocket engine testing programs, the engineers
realized the desperate need for locating invisible hydrogen
The engineers drew on their experience in thermal
imaging technology to develop the device. Thermal imaging is
used at NASAs Kennedy Space Center, FL, for ice detection on
the Space Shuttle, as well as on filtered cameras used for
rocket engine plume diagnostics.
There are currently thermal imagers on the market for
fire department usage, which are more expensive. In
addition, this thermal technology causes problems for
firefighters who are not familiar with the device since they
may not be able to read writing on walls or distinguish
easily between a window and a picture frame.
“There was a huge gap in technology between the $3 broom
and the $30,000 thermal imagers,” said Heidi Barnes, one of
the engineers who originally developed the device.
“Firefighters need a reliable but economical device to assist
them in their work. The technology was there. It has just
been a matter of developing something relatively simple to
use and get it out there to them.”
Harvey Smith, the other engineer who developed the
device, said they are still exploring other possible
applications of the fire imager for fire departments, such as
finding smoldering embers in forest fires.
NASA press releases and other information are available
automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message
to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the body of the message (not the
subject line) users should type the words “subscribe
press-release” (no quotes). The system will reply with a
confirmation via E-mail of each subscription. A second
automatic message will include additional information on the
service. NASA releases also are available via CompuServe
using the command GO NASA.