Ken Steers: From Burn Victim to Modern Firefighter

kensteersWhen Ken Steers was still a young child, he suffered serious burns over 60 percent of his body and spent two years in rehabilitation for these injuries. This experience no doubt affected his choice in life: Ken Steers became a frontline firefighter with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Over the years, he’s come to understand and appreciate just how much firefighting has changed over the years. Modern firefighting equipment and techniques have enabled first responders to act more effectively in emergency situations. Here are some of the most important new developments in the field of fire response.

Fighting Wildfires

Wildfires represent a serious risk to firefighters due to their unpredictability and the sheer size of the flames to be battled. New strategies are currently being developed to reduce the risks to first responders and to provide added protection for those in the path of these dangerous and fast-spreading fires.

  • The use of drones as tools to monitor wildfires is being explored by several research firms. These advanced flying devices can be deployed during the evening and night hours to provide aerial surveillance and tracking for rapidly moving fires. This can ensure up-to-the-minute information for firefighters on safe avenues of approach and exit to these large-scale blazes.
  • Portable fire shelters are designed to provide some protection against the huge amounts of radiant heat produced by wildfires. The glue used to construct these shelters can break down quickly, however, when exposed to direct flame. New adhesive materials and designs are being considered by the U.S. Forest Service to provide even greater protection for those in the line of fire.
  • Meteorologists are also looking at new prediction models for wind movements to help firefighters stay safer on the job. Wind shifts can change the direction of fires to create dangerous situations for those on the ground. Achieving greater accuracy in wind predictions can provide earlier warning for those working to battle the blazes and save people and property.

By developing these new technologies, government agencies and private research firms can provide added protection for firefighters in combatting these large fires.

Current Government Projects

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is currently investigating new technologies designed to improve safety in the firefighting field. The Smart Firefighting Project encompasses a range of activities that include the following:

  • Robotic sensor technologies and smart building practices
  • Improved firefighter equipment and tools and robotic mapping
  • Enhanced departmental apparatus designs for improved response times and reduced risk of injuries

NIST is also responsible for the High Temperature Performance of Fire Fighter Equipment Project. This ongoing initiative involves the testing and enhancement of gear and equipment to ensure that it can perform optimally in the extreme temperatures present in most structural fires. Durability and protection are also considered as major factors in the design process. Of paramount importance, however, is the actual function of these pieces of equipment in real-world conditions.

Enhanced Monitoring Capability

Thermal-imaging cameras are already in use in many local fire departments and can provide a much clearer picture for firefighters upon their arrival on the scene. These advanced visualization tools can deliver pinpoint accuracy in identifying the hottest parts of the fire. This can allow first responders on the scene to create a plan of attack that can more quickly bring the fire under control and can reduce the risks to those tasked with battling the fire. Gas detectors are also used to provide added information and to increase safety for firefighters inside buildings and in hazardous areas.

Lightweight Personal Gear

Advances in the field of polymers and other materials have resulted in the development of lighter, more maneuverable fireproof gear that can allow greater mobility in cramped or uneven surfaces. Some materials offer superior protection against heat; however, the same technology that repels heat from the outside can result in overheating and potential dehydration for firefighters if worn for prolonged periods. Finding ways to combat this problem can potentially result in improved performance for firefighting gear and enhanced safety for those who risk their lives to defend people and property against loss to fire.

For those like Ken Steers who owe their lives to the prompt arrival and action of firefighters, the quest for better equipment and more effective methods of suppressing and reducing the spread of flames is an ongoing process that requires the efforts of private industry and government agencies.