A robot is often defined as a machine designed to take the place of a human. FireDrake Industries executive vice president Lisa Mortimeyer is adamant that her company's fire fighting tool, the FireDrake Mobile Monitor ?, comes nowhere close to replacing a real firefighter.
"When we introduced the Mobile Monitor??we wanted to make it clear to fire fighting agencies it would not take their jobs," Mortimeyer said. "This is a tool they would use when they couldn't or shouldn't go near a dangerous fire."
The FireDrake Mobile Monitor??is a patented, remote controlled fire suppression device that looks like an Abrams tank reduced to the size of a coffee table. Instead of a 120 mm cannon, the FireDrake can be equipped with a monitor big enough to deliver 80 to 1,000 gpm and more while dragging hundreds of feet of charged hose or as much as 1,000 feet of uncharged line.
"It's highly maneuverable and has been tested in the toughest conditions," Mortimeyer said. "It applies water, AFFF, organic Thermo-Gel?, Thermo-Foam??or any other chemicals that can be pumped through a supply line. It has a variety of option packages that make it suitable for every industry employing firefighters."
In a fire, pipeline failure or other emergency at a refinery where manpower is short, the Mobile Monitor??could be deployed rapidly and safely by only one employee until the rest of the backup fire resources arrives.
"Certainly we are all concerned about safety, but it's like every other job in the world," a California refinery worker told Mortimeyer. "You go there, you do the best you can and hope nothing happens. If you work there long enough incidents will occur. You just hope you have the manpower and equipment to do the job safely."
With as little as 10 minutes of training, firefighters can have a head start on a serious fire or hazmat situation with the Mobile Monitor?, Mortimeyer said.
"It can climb stairs, fit through standard doorways and easily fits on most heavy rescue emergency vehicles and fire trucks with little or no modification," Mortimeyer said.
With the aid of extras such as thermal imaging, the Mobile Monitor??can be positioned and repositioned from a safe distance to protect firefighters, nearby exposures or? to directly attack the fire.
"In the case of any fire that should be fought from a distance or a toxic industrial fire that would normally be left to burn itself out, the Mobile Monitor??can walk in and fight the fire using anything from a master stream to a fog-spray pattern, greatly reducing the emissions from these types of fires," Mortimeyer said.
With too many industrial fire brigades downsized to near minimum strength, bringing the? Mobile Monitor? to bear is the next best thing to mutual aid.
"It allows incident commanders to assign their key people to other critical tasks so that fires can be fought with fewer people," Mortimeyer said.
Like many technical innovations in America, FireDrake was born in the garage of a budding entrepreneur and full time firefighter.
"The first version was pretty good, but it needed improvement to be sturdy enough for industrial fire fighting," she said. "So he presented his alpha prototype to our president, Herb Brockett, and said 'What can we do with this?'"
FireDrake, a South Dakota-based company, redesigned and reengineered the Mobile Monitor?, introducing a beta version to the market in October 2007. The smallest model, the TLS-350, weighs less than 600 pounds and will apply water, Thermo-Gel??fire retardant and fire fighting foam including AFFF at a rate of 80 to 1,000 gpm as needed.
"The Mobile Monitor??can apply anything that can be pumped through a hose," Mortimeyer said. "Bigger versions of this model are available that will apply up to 2,000 gpm or higher if needed."
Besides fighting dangerous fires from a distance, FireDrake can be used to locate firefighters who have become disoriented in a fire situation. With the thermal imaging package, it can enter a structure, find a downed firefighter and apply either large fog-spray pattern or cover the firefighter in Thermo-Gel?, protecting him until the RIT (rescue intervention team) can arrive.
In an industrial setting, FireDrake's maneuverability can allow it to be positioned to protect firefighters as they attempt difficult procedures such as shutting valves, Mortimeyer said. It moves with a top speed of nearly four miles an hour.
"We've tested it over various types of terrain," she said. "We've had potential customers ask us for a variety of track options. If there is deep sand you might want a wheeled vehicle, or if there is a paved environment you might want a wider track."
Track options include non-sparking rubber tracks for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. By comparison, metal tracks are usually perferred by wildland firefighters, Mortimeyer said.
The Mobile Monitor??can operate without an electrical recharge for up to 72 hours. It can be controlled using either a laptop computer tied to its imagery equipment or a simple control box comparable to a remote controlled toy.
"It is built using industrial grade components and has a very good warranty," Mortimeyer said. "This device is going to revolutionize the way incident commanders can allocate their resources."
Best of all, a Mobile Monitor??lost in the line of duty is easily replaceable, she said. A living, breathing firefighter lost in the line of duty is a tragedy.
FireDrake is finding immediate success in the areas of mining and agriculture, Mortimeyer said. Pinpoint remote application of fire retardant can eliminate the costly contamination of process chemicals.
With regard to agriculture, rice producers along the Interstate 5, the primary north/south thoroughfare in California, were losing valuable crops to hazmat spills and fire related to tanker trucks. FireDrake is being investigated as a tool that can be immediately deployed to limit damage from these accidents.
A California Highway Patrol Safety Officer has invited FireDrake to assist in the coordination of the first Interstate 5 Corridor Safety Summit that will involve first responders from many counties up and down the interstate. This would include all agencies that would respond to hazmat or a dangerous tanker accident on this busy thoroughfare. The Mobile Monitor would be demonstrated as something that could control fire related losses by approaching the burning vehicle and directly suppress the fire. These truck related incidents are fires that firefighters cannot get near enough to deal with, but are very expensive if left to burn uncontrolled until the fuel is exhausted.
"The highly maneuverable device is perfect for rapid intervention, travels nicely in the back of a pickup or SUV, tows on a small trailer or can be fitted on an ATV for fast deployment," Mortimeyer said.?