Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part story about new technology developed by MSA to enhance firefighter safety and scene management. The first article focused on MSA’s connected firefighter platform, while this article will address the features and benefits of specific products.
LUNAR is a handheld search-and-rescue device using thermal imaging technology to identify edges, people, doors, windows and other venting sources. It also includes a motion detector that sounds an alarm and broadcasts a distress signal to nearby personnel if a firefighter becomes incapacitated.
The unique aspect of LUNAR technology is its ability to locate a downed firefighter and direct rescuers to the specific location.
“It took four years of research and development to create technology that works independently of all other types of wireless equipment while using the same frequency and communications protocol,” says Matthew Quigley, MSA’s global product group manager for fire service technology and connectivity. “The system deploys as soon as it powers on to send and receive status signals from other LUNARs within range.”
Each department registers LUNAR devices to its own accounts which enables staff to see the status and data pertaining to any nearby device.
“This allows us to create an ad hoc network whether it involves one fire department or multiple departments arriving on scene simultaneously. Any team arriving at fire scene can connect to the safety network as long as they have at least one LUNAR device,” says Quigley.
Other products are often reliant on manufacturer-specific telemetry networks, which makes it difficult for multiple departments to integrate, he adds.
As soon as a firefighter turns on a LUNAR, the system establishes the FAST network and starts scanning for other devices. Their system transmits two types of alarms to other devices:
- Motion alarm activated by a sensor. If a firefighter becomes incapacitated, LUNAR sends an alarm after 30 seconds of inactivity.
- Manual alarm activated by a firefighter who becomes lost or distressed.
As soon as a firefighter activates an alarm, the device emits an audible alert and transmits a beacon distress signal to other LUNARs in the vicinity. The firefighter’s name appears on the screen, along with the location and type of alarm.
“The most important feature of the firefighting assisting search technology (FAST) network is the recognition that a mayday has occurred,” says Quigley.
Without LUNAR, firefighters must send and receive a radio transmission to report someone in distress. Then firefighters must manually search for the victim to extract him.
LUNAR expedites the search process by making others aware of the problem rather than waiting for someone to report and relay it to the team. Then firefighters can lock onto the signal and determine the approximate distance and direction they need to travel to reach the person.
“It uses a custom-designed directional antenna that changes the display based on where the device is pointed,” says Quigley. “The system lays the information over the thermal image to provide guidance about where the firefighter is located and the context for moving within the structure itself.”
Getting LUNAR to transmit information to incident command was one of the big jumps for improving the experiences of fire departments deploying monitoring systems, he explains.
“We wanted a firefighter to jump off the truck, turn the product on and start transmitting information back to incident command,” says Quigley.
The system is not dependent upon setting up a router or other hub device, then powering it on and waiting for the system to load. LUNAR provides instant accountability whenever the device turns on.
It uses the same long-term evolution (LTE) category M1 technology to transmit data used by other IOT products to communicate over the internet. It establishes a ubiquitous connection that does not require an Internet connection.
“LUNAR uses our safety input-output cloud that is a wholly owned subsidiary company of MSA focusing on software-as-a-service products,” says Quigley.
“The device connects to our own cloud-based and mobile applications, so the data is available through a suite of products for viewing on scene or from a remote location,” he adds. “However, the system also stores the data within our customers’ cloud accounts, so they have lifetime access to their data.
“They can replay incidents or review reports over time to uncover issues with specific equipment or firefighters. The system complements inventory management capabilities to marry maintenance schedules to a product’s actual use,” says Quigley.
Using cellular connections and cloud-based services eliminates the need to be physically present on scene.
“We can move data to a dispatch center, especially in large metropolitan areas, where commanders can watch how multiple active scenes are progressing in order to determine where to deploy trucks and staff,” he adds.
Volunteer fire departments that can’t dedicate a specific person to manage a scene can still access information from a centralized location and monitor multiple incidents simultaneously to direct resources where they need to go.
Expanding on technology developed in 2017, MSA updated the core module and integrated it into the new system to improve the ability to navigate through fire scenes and find hotpots without increasing the product’s weight or size.
First, the company increased the display to 3.5 inches to offer a wider view of the scene. Edge detection is an enhancement laid on top of an existing thermal image. It looks at pixels next to each other. If an algorithm determines the pixels exceed a defined threshold, the system draws a green line to help accentuate images on the frame to highlight doors, windows, people, electronics and other sources of heat.
“Edge detection doesn’t change the image. Rather it accentuates the area of focus on the screen,” says Quigley. “Firefighters who have evaluated the technology say the real value is in aiding navigation.
“If someone looks down a long hallway, being able to understand where doors and windows are located can be a tremendous help in a live fire incident,” he adds. “If someone is laying on the ground or in a corner, the system enhances the image to provide more focus as to where that person may be.”
LUNAR provides that information to individual firefighters constantly. They don’t have to stop moving to check equipment because the information is always visible.
“In the past, departments reserved thermal imaging capability for team leaders or specialists trained to use the cameras because the devices were prohibitively expensive,” says Quiqley. “As technology progressed over the past several years and more products entered the thermal imaging space, the cost to acquire equipment has decreased as products became smaller and more sophisticated.”
As a result, departments can get thermal imaging devices into the hands of more firefighters. Without them, firefighters depend on their sense of touch or physical contact with a wall to guide their navigation because smoke obscures their vision.
“The benefit of having more cameras available to more people is that it increases overall visibility because the team is not dependent upon one person with a camera,” he explains. “Now everyone can have a camera to expedite navigating an indoor scene.”
By broadcasting read-only data anywhere in the world, FireGrid gives commanders situational awareness of their crews’ locations and status.
The device stores data securely on a cloud-based application where departments can access it anytime from anywhere or download it for archival purposes.
“This is helpful in conducting a post-scene evaluation or to complete reports,” says Quigley. “By retaining data permanently, they can use the information for training or to conduct preventative maintenance.”
MSA created redundant capabilities to ensure that the system works in any cellular environment or even in areas where signals are absent, such as underground locations, like subways or basements.
The system does not change the standard operating procedures of any department, Quigley promises. Instead, the tools enhance procedures and techniques perfected by firefighters over many years.
“Our philosophy is to design the capabilities of our products to make them more efficient and faster with actionable access to important information to improve decision-making capabilities even as fire scenes evolve,” he adds.
For more information about LUNAR or any of the suite of firefighting products developed by MSA, visit www.msasafety.com.