on a 911 call, an Emergency Communication Center issues an alert,
dispatching equipment and personnel to the incident. Emergency
Responders receive the alert and initiate transit to the fireground.
Addressing the situation to the best of their ability, fire fighters
work to control the fire and ensure the safety of building occupants. An
incident commander (IC) arrives on scene to manage fireground
Available information on
the situation becomes apparent piecemeal—neither collected nor
processed in a systematic fashion. Teams of fire fighters independently
analyze their immediate situation based on local observations and
available data. The IC uses information from these teams and past
experiences to build a mental model of the entire fireground and to
issue commands. If the model is incorrect, or if the commands are
misunderstood or misinterpreted, problems could escalate. Scenes like
this play out hundreds of times a day in fire departments across the
U.S. Independent data collection, analysis, and action lead to limited
coordination and hamper the IC’s ability to optimize tactical decisions.
a result, fire losses in the U.S. remain too high. In 2013, for
example, fire departments responded to 487,500 structure fires, which
resulted in approximately 2,855 civilian fatalities, 14,075 injuries,
property losses of about $9.5 billion, and 30,000 fire fighters injured
on the fireground.1,2
WHY IS IT THIS WAY?
standards exist for training, equipment, and other key focus areas,
tactics and strategies are typically controlled by three major factors.
First is the experience and judgment of the incident commander. Second
is data, which is either visually observed or derived from the operating
environment. Third are the jurisdictional, standard operating
procedures. Consequently, each of the 30,000 fire departments in the
U.S. operate in a relatively unique manner on the fireground contingent
on the details of the emergency event. The procedures employed are often
implemented with less than optimum 1) specific and reliable information
regarding the location, history, and projected growth of the fire, 2)
building geometry and contents, 3) the location of occupants and fire
fighting personnel, 4) fire suppression activities and their
consequences, and 5) the status of fire protection assets. Changing this
situation will help the fire service attack the aforementioned losses.
These changes will require new types of technologies.
|Current state||Future state|
|Tradition-based tactics||Data-driven, science-based tactics|
|Local information||Global information|
|Data-poor decision making||Information-rich decision making|
|Lack of awareness||Situational awareness|
|Untapped/unavailable data||Comprehensive data collection, analysis, and communication|
|Isolated equipment and building elements||Interconnected equipment and building monitoring, data, and control systems|
|Human operations||Human controlled, collaborative, and automated operations with inanimate objects (buildings, machines, etc.)|
Table 1: Transformation from Tradition-based to Smart Fire Fighting.
A VISION OF FUTURE FIRE FIGHTING: THE EVOLUTION TO CYBER PHYSICAL SYSTEMS
third major technology revolution is underway. The Industrial
Revolution was the first. It spearheaded advances in physical equipment
and technologies. The Internet Revolution was second. It led to advances
in cyber technologies, including hardware and software. The Industrial
Internet Revolution is the third, which includes the Internet of Things,
Big Data, Analytics, Machine-to-Machine Communication, and sensor
networks. This third revolution, just like its predecessors, provides
the foundation for new types of systems called cyber physical systems
CPS combines the cyber and
physical worlds in real time. The miniaturization of sensors and the
power of computers coupled with wireless communication technologies has
given rise to a range of commercial products previously unimaginable,
becoming available to improve the safety and effectiveness of fire
fighting and fire protection. They enable the creation of fire-related
products that talk to each other and equipment and controls that are
integrated into meaningful sub-systems. Connecting the sub-systems is
the ultimate goal, providing comprehensive access to information. These
technologies, when integrated, will facilitate the development of smart
systems. Examples include Smart Grid, Smart Cities, Smart Buildings, and
Smart Transportation, to name a few.
THE EVOLUTION FROM FIRE FIGHTING TO SMART FIRE FIGHTING
physical technologies can be used to create Smart Fire Fighting
systems. This requires a framework to 1) collect large quantities of
data/ information from a range of sources, 2) process, analyze, and
predict using that information, and 3) disseminate the results and
provide targeted information based on the predictions to enable informed
decision-making by communities, fire departments, incident commanders,
and fire fighters as appropriate. The framework needs to address many
technology and standards challenges, technical and implementation
barriers, and environmental hazards on the fireground. The solutions
will facilitate a paradigm shift from tradition-based fire protection and fire fighting to smart fire fighting. This shift will transform fire protection and fire fighting from the current state of information and
experience-limited decision-making (see Table 1) to a sensor-rich
environment with ubiquitous data collection, analysis and communication,
ultimately leading to data-driven and science-based decision-making.
This shift will likely occur as CPS is developed and tested for various
applications and employed for fire protection and fire fighting.
|Fire Fighter|| |
|Fire Apparatus|| |
Table 2: Examples of Existing and Emerging Fire-Related Information Sources.
|Fire Service Role||Knowledge Needs During an Emergency|
|Incident Commander|| |
|Safety Officer|| |
|Search and Rescue Team|| |
|Suppression Team|| |
|Ventilation Team|| |
Table 3: Fire Service Dynamic Information and Knowledge Needs
ability to acquire actionable information is critical to effective
firefighting operations. The value of any specific piece of information
depends on its accuracy, completeness, and accessibility. There are at
least four major types of information sources that support Smart Fire
Fighting: community-based information, building occupant information,
building information, and information related to fire fighters and their
tools. Table 2 lists some of the existing and emerging sources of
information that are useful for Smart Fire Fighting. Today, data from
these sources are independently collected and separately processed,
which limits their effectiveness.
PROCESSED DATA AND ACTIONABLE INFORMATION
must be compiled, processed, and integrated into actionable
information. Table 3 lists examples of the types of processed
information that may be useful.
complex process of information gathering begins with sensors, which are
becoming cheaper, more powerful, and pervasive. As a starting point,
leveraging existing and emerging sensor technologies and installed
systems in buildings provides opportunities for smart fire fighting. New
electronic technologies can provide an ever-increasing, sensor-rich
environment from which vast amounts of potentially useful data can be
derived. Buildings will see an increase in sensors that will track both
the environmental condition and occupants’ status. Fire fighters will be
equipped with sensors that track their location, monitor their
physiology, and sense their environment. Sensors in fire fighters’
personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as in equipment and
apparatus, provide the possibility of detecting and characterizing
exposure hazards and monitoring fire fighter hydration, thermal stress,
and location. The data would allow fire fighters to assess environmental
conditions in real-time and take informed actions to minimize
associated risks. A key to widespread use and acceptance of these new
sensors is a common architecture and standards.
architecture defines a system’s components as well as their functions
and interactions across temporal and spatial scales. There currently is
no universal CPS reference architecture that enables collaboration and
sharing of ideas and solutions within and across sectors and domains. To
make progress, Smart Fire Fighting systems and technologies require an
integrated architectural design. Many CPS deployments are
sector-specific and fragmented, and have not demonstrated their true
potential of broad impact. The CPS research community is in the process
of developing a framework to identify universal or cross-cutting
elements of CPS architectures. This development will help identify
common problems (such as technology integration) and solution.
sensor data with software analytics tools within and across
architectural levels will require 1) standardized networking protocols
to cover wireless communications and 2) standardized syntax and
semantics to cover the conceptual content. A number of wireless
standards exist already. Nevertheless, issues regarding their
effectiveness on the fireground remain.
will offer, for the first time, the ability to systematically monitor
the implementation of specific tactics on the fireground. Since the gas
temperatures throughout a structure are being tracked in real time, an
IC will be able to monitor whether a suppression team is effective in
reducing fire intensity. Based on fire data, an IC will have more
information on which to choose to supplement or withdraw the initial
suppression team. Feedback from CPS to the IC will enable fire ground
operations and tactics to be improved.
fire service is benefiting from the trend of an ever-increasing,
sensor-rich environment with vast amounts of potentially useful data.
The key to widespread use and acceptance of these new technologies is
standardization. Standardization will come in two forms: performance and
protocols. Performance standards govern how sensors should function and
the data they should provide. Protocols govern the integration of
sensors with other physical or electronic equipment and related software
One arena where the
specific topic area of Smart Fire Fighting is being addressed is within
the NFPA family of codes and standards. Two new relevant documents are
NFPA 950, Standard for Data Development and Exchange for the Fire
Service, and NFPA 951, Guide to Building and Utilizing Digital
Information. NFPA 950 provides a standardized framework for the
development, management, and sharing of data for all-hazards response
agencies and organizations. NFPA 951 will provide guidance on the
development and integration of information and communication systems to
facilitate information sharing for emergency response and national
The National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) Standard SB 30-2005—Fire Service Annunciator and Interface Standard provided the fire ser vice with wireless information across manufacturers’ platforms to enable easy operation without the need for specialized training on each individual system. The NEMA SB 30 Standard was adopted for inclusion in NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Since then, however, it has been rescinded, leaving a gap in an important enabling standard. Connecting buildings to public safety networks is complex, involving networks using different standard protocols.3 A large number of standards associated with Smart Fire Fighting remain to be resolved,4 including some crosscutting issues, affecting all CPS:
- Secure methods of transmitting a standard data set in a standardized format
- Standardized information for first responders and standard building data models
- Standard communication protocols and user interfaces
- Implementation of appropriate authorization, authentication, and security protocols
- Interoperability standards for software and hardware
- Plug-and-play architectures that facilitate integration of cyber and physical components
EARLY DEMONSTRATIONS OF SMART FIRE FIGHTING
Information Enhanced Fire Fighting. An early demonstration of Smart Fire Fighting was conducted in 2005 by NIST with the Wilson Fire/Rescue Services, Wilson, NC. The goal of the demonstration was to relay information to first responders on their way to a simulated incident, thereby improving decision making. Some of that information came from three sensors in the target building: smoke sensors, heat sensors, and CO detectors. The sensor data was used by a zone model to infer probable future conditions with the information transmitted to the first responder’s laptop computer en route (see Figure 1) including:
- Location of fire hydrants, building entrances, interior stairwells, elevators, hazardous materials, building occupancy, construction
- Fire size and its location
- Sprinklers/no sprinkler
- Locations of interior standpipes, fire wall ratings, location of fire fighting & emergency medical services equipment
- Floor plans with fire hazards deduced from sensor signals using a zone fire model with indication if flashover has occurred in real time; if a toxic/thermal hazard is present; if significant smoke is present or if a possible fire hazard exists.
The SAFER Project.
In 2009, an analogous system was tested and implemented in Frisco, TX,
as part of the Situational Awareness for Emergency Response (SAFER
project), an information-based system for first responders and community
resources.1 On the way to a fire, a variety of information
is provided to first responders, including maps, arrangement of fire
lanes, the location of fire hydrants, and pre-plan information with site
details. Information includes the location of standpipes, how the
building was constructed, the building layout and room functions,
annotations on any recent problems, a list of hazardous materials in the
building, updated contact information for school administrators,
real-time video camera information from within the target building, and
available water lines. This type of system provides a model of how
information can be tapped for fire fighter and civilian safety.
Exploiting the Power of Big Data.
A popular descriptive phrase used today is "big data.” Before 2013,
fire inspections in New York City were paper-based. All that changed
when FDNY’s Analytics Unit initiated operations. There are 330,000
buildings in the inspection portfolio in the City of New York, with
about 10 percent inspected annually. To address the question as to which
buildings ought to be inspected, FDNY’s Jeff Chen and Jeff Roth put
together "FireCast,” a data-driven predictive risk engine.7
Dispensing with a reliance on empirical causation in favor of
correlation, data on every aspect of life in New York City was accessed.
This was possible because the city has digitized and harmonized
whatever data was available including 311 noise complaints, sewage
back-ups, power outages, building age, sprinkler presence, if the
building was guarded, and building permit information.
1.0 was deployed in March 2013 and included a dozen risk factors. The
latest version relates thousands of types of data to determine the
relationship with key fire incident indicators. The risk profile is
updated daily and provided to inspection teams that can then decide
which properties need inspection. Infraction rates have significantly
increased with the deployment of FireCast 2.0. The impact of this work
is being tracked and is expected to lead to reduced fire losses.
Figure 1. Screen-shot of en route information displayed by an emergency responder’s laptop showing the Wilson Hospital floor plan from Ref 6. Yellow indicates real-time toxic/thermal hazard areas based on a zone fire model calculation.
TECHNICAL CHALLENGES AND NEXT STEPS
In an effort to kick-start a Research Roadmap on Smart Fire Fighting, a workshop titled, Smart Firefighting, Where Big Data and Fire Service Unite, was held in March 2014.6
The workshop established a dialogue among subject matter expert s
familiar with the unique characteristics of fire fighting and CPS.
Workshop results are being used to develop the technical basis for a
Smart Fire Fighting Roadmap8 to identify high-priority technical barriers and research gaps that hinder widespread application of CPS to fire fighting.
idea of Smart Fire Fighting is based on creating, storing, exchanging,
analyzing, and integrating information from a wide range of databases
and sensor networks. Key challenges involve innovative design
strategies, new control theory, systems integration, intelligent sensing
and control, and automation. Another key challenge is the ability to
develop usable performance metrics for experimentation, evaluation, and
validation, and to enable the design, control, and efficient operation
of advanced cyber-physical systems. A third challenge is to enable
interoperability among different cyber physical systems.
wireless networks get faster and more prevalent, as sensors become
smaller and less expensive, and as computing resources become more
powerful, the potential for impact on fire fighting and public safety
using Smart Fire Fighting will continue to expand. To enable progress,
many standards need to be resolved; work is underway to address many of
these, but much remains to be done. The fire protection community needs
to be aware of the latest CPS developments and start implementing smart
systems to benefit the next generation of fire fighting and fire
Albert Jones, and Nelson Bryner are with the National Institute of
Standards and Technology; Casey Grant is with the Fire Protection
- Karter, M.J., Jr. and Molis, J.L., "U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2013,” NFPA, Quincy, MA, Nov. 2014, www.nfpa.org.
- Karter, M.J., Jr., "Fire Loss in the United States During 2013,” NFPA, Quincy, MA, Sept. 2014, www.nfpa.org.
- Vinh, A. and Holmberg, D.C., "Connecting Buildings to Public Safety Networks,” International Multi-Conference on Engineering and Technology Innovation (IMETI 2009). Proceedings. Vol. 3. July 10-13, 2009, Orlando FL, 199-203, 2009.
- Averill, J.D., Holmberg, D., Vinh, A., Davis, W., "Building Information Exchange for First Responders Workshop: Proceedings October 15-16, 2008,” National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, NIST Technical Note 1643, 60 pp, December 2011.
- Davis, W.D., Holmberg, D.G., Reneke, P.A., Brassell, L.D., Vettori, R.L., "Demonstration of Real-Time Tactical Decision Aid Displays,” National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, NIST IR 7437, August 2007.
- Davis, W.D., "Intelligent Building Response,” Fire Protection Engineering, No. 33, 26 Winter 2007.
- Hamins, A., Bryner, N., Jones, A., Koepke, G., Grant, C., Raghunathan, A., Smart Firefighting Workshop Summary Report, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, Special Publication 1174, August 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.6028/NIST.SP.1174.
- A Roadmap for Smart Firefighting, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, NIST GCR in preparation, 2015.