WEARABLE technology could change the decades-old practice of gauging the colour of smoke and relying on third-hand information to fight fires and save lives.
Fire & Rescue NSW is set to begin trials of a body-worn video camera that will live stream footage of fires back to its command centre. The command post will for the first time be able to see what is happening inside a burning home, building or site.
“That’s a view that we’ve never been actually able to have (at the command post) before,” said Graham Tait, operational communications systems officer at Fire & Rescue.
Mr Tait said senior officers at the command centre needed to know what was happening inside and outside the affected area so decisions were made that ensured fires were fought correctly.
“Decisions on how many resources are required and where people need to be will be a lot better,” Mr Tait said.
“(This is because) they can actually see with their own eyes what’s happening and not rely on third-hand information or seeing the colour of the smoke — what we do currently.
“We will be able to put in tactics to resolve fires quicker, and if anybody’s trapped inside a building we’ll be able to rescue them faster.”
The video camera, dubbed Firecam and supplied by m-View, is about 100mm long, with the diameter of a 20c piece. It weighs 110g.
“They’re quite small and connect to a smartphone and broadcast from there. There’re no wires or cables or anything to connect to it,” Mr Tait said.
The camera can be attached to a firefighter’s shoulder, helmet or anywhere else and “we can see whatever they can see”, he said.
Live video is streamed back to base using a smartphone’s 3G or 4G connection.
The device captures video in high-definition on a storage card in the camera as it simultaneously broadcasts live.
While the video footage beamed to Fire & Rescue’s command post is not in high-definition (as it would be too bandwidth-intensive), Mr Tait said it was “good enough to watch live”.
For reference or other purposes, the high-definition video can be downloaded from the storage card once the firefighter returns.
Fire & Rescue predominantly uses iPhones, but it would use an Android smartphone during the trials as m-View’s iPhone app for the wearable device was under development, he said.
The organisation is an existing customer of m-View, which allows firefighters to capture video using iPhones.
Mr Tait is not concerned about battery life, often the bane of many smartphone users.
He said most incidents were quite short and firefighters normally wore their breathing apparatus for 30-40 minutes at a time inside fires. The cameras can run for about eight hours before needing to be recharged.
The trial will start within weeks for an undetermined period of time.
The NSW government is gearing up to equip its law enforcement officers with wearable video cameras, with a tender for suppliers about to close.
M-View chief Andre Obradovic said the company was “actively interested in working with NSW Police”.
In the US, President Barack Obama has backed the use of such devices following the Ferguson riots.
Mr Obradovic said the technology had a wide variety of applications and could be used in mining, transportation and healthcare.