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

fire flames.

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.


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