New technology is changing the way crews fight fires - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

New technology is changing the way crews fight fires

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MISSOULA, Mont. -

New technology is changing the way wild land firefighters are doing their jobs. Attacking a fire today is as much about computers and labs as it is about hoses a shovels.

If firefighters are the James Bonds in the war on wildfires, then the scientists are the Qs. Those scientists invent the gadgets used to beat the bad fires.

"This right here is actually a core temperature capsule. And this is ingested by a wild land firefighter," Joe Domitrovich says. Joe is with the US Forest Service Technology and Development Center. He uses this and other devices to monitor how firefighters respond to their conditions.

The capsule is swallowed and it sends, via Bluetooth, minute-by-minute body temperature readings.

"Right now we're following a hot shot crew just outside Fairbanks, Alaska," says Joe Sol, who compiles the data.  "So we can go through and get caloric expenditure, then also see how they respond to an activity and how fast they can recover from that activity as well."

The Joes can then determine they types of workouts and diet the firefighters need.

Down the hall, Kevin Brown is testing a new type of rappelling device to replace the current one that would simply let a firefighter fall to his death should he lose consciousness during a helicopter drop.

"Whereas this one gives the opportunity to stop and gives someone else the opportunity to rescue you or at least get a hold of a handle again," Brown said.

Bret Butler is a research mechanical engineer. He used a 1994 Colorado fire that killed 14 firefighters as an example, and his motivation, to develop Wind-Ninja. A device used to monitor wind around a fire.

"At every drainage, at every ridge top, almost around every tree, you can see what the wind is going to do," Butler said.

One smoke jumper says this new technology could be extremely useful. Kurt Rohrbach says on the fire lines, information is key.

"I'm glad that we're focusing more time and energy on that technology. I think that's going to help our organization grow and be able to fight fire more effectively and efficiently."

Boyd Burtch is testing a robotic parachute that could drop hundreds of pounds of supplies. At night, or in heavy smoke, planes can't fly low enough to accurately drop supplies. New GPS units will enable the firefighters to simply supply bundles out the side or back of the plane, and then with precision accuracy, it will land exactly where they want it. This would replace the current method of delivery, which sometimes includes hauling in packs on horses.

"The horses would definitely take hours to get to some spot that we could fly within 20 or 30 minutes," Burtch said.

The new technology being developed today is moving firefighting from the 18th to the 21st century.

"Our work allows us to hopefully make decisions that can help bring them home safe to their families," said Domitrovich.

The ultimate goal for the behind-the-scenes heroes, who help the heroes on the fire lines, is to keep the rest of us out of harm's way.

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