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Tecnalia and Sueskola present a smart suit to increase the safety of fire fighters

Within the i-Protect European project co-ordinated by the Polish research centre CIOP, the Tecnalia Centre for Applied Research and the Sueskola Foundation have presented a new piece of equipment; it keeps a check on vital signs and any hazards in the environment and allows the brigade to be monitored.

It is a smart suit made of advanced fabrics; it is lighter than the current ones and monitors the state of health of the firefighters and the hazards in the environment by means of sensors, which allows a fire brigade to be monitored in real time during its intervention in a disaster. The firefighters in the Basque Autonomous Community are called out 15,000 times a year and in Spain as a whole fire fighters are called out 350,000 times. Their high level of training means that the accident rate among these professionals is very low, but when accidents happen, the seriousness of them is extreme. That is why raising the safety level of this group to a maximum has become a fundamental aim to guarantee that those who are devoted to saving other people’s lives do not endanger their own. The future firefighter's suit comprises a sensorized jacket, trousers and inside vest, advanced, autonomous breathing apparatus and a system for communicating with the (control centre. Each of these items has built-in cutting-edge technology that enables not only the state of health of the firefighter but also the conditions in the environment to be monitored. The ultimate element in this equipment is the control centre where all the elements are monitored and the communications and alerts are managed. By means of the inside vest, the health of the firefighters will be monitored during their interventions in order to guarantee their safety. The vest has built into it sensors to control the fire fighter’s heart rate, breathing and body temperature, which will help to anticipate a situation of thermal stress or heat stroke. The jacket and trousers have built-in gas detectors that can pick up toxic gases outside and a drop in the concentration of oxygen. Sensors alert the control centre so that the situation can be managed. What is more, the fabrics used for the uniforms are tougher, more ergonomic to guarantee the comfort of the professional, and lighter; these considerations are designed to encourage more effective action. As regards the autonomous breathing apparatus, it includes a system to manage the amount of air contained in the cylinder and monitor the exterior temperature, which advises and issues alerts by means of acoustic alarms and a PDA. It also has a device to alert the control centre if a fire fighter fails to move within a set period of time. Each of the components of the suit communicates in wireless mode with the control centre, which is a mobile system of communication management that can be moved together with the brigade to monitor the intervention in situ. There, software will monitor variations in the fire fighters’ vital signs and the presence of potential toxic gases, so that the brigade supervisors can make the appropriate decisions to guarantee the safety of each one of them and can issue instructions over the radio about the actions that need to be taken. It also includes a general alarm system for the whole brigade. The European i-Protect project ( the aim of which from the start has been to develop this innovative equipment for fire fighters, comes to an end in September after having been going for three years and resulting in the production of six prototypes of protection equipment. These prototypes are currently in the testing phase in three different types of scenarios: fires, underground mining rescue and chemical accidents. The project is being backed by a European consortium of 15 members, including Tecnalia, and led by CIOP-PIB, a Polish research centre with a recognised, long trajectory in the development and certification of protective equipment.