August 22, 2018- The tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, which broke out on the 14th June 2017, highlight the important need for innovative cutting-edge technology to enhance rescue efforts.  One such technology Pathfinder, developed in collaboration with researchers at the SFI Research Centre ADAPT and Martin Trainor, Assistant Chief Officer with the Cavan County Fire Service, aims to protect first responders while also reducing the time needed to rescue persons trapped within burning structures.

Pathfinder is a hardware and software solution to assist firefighters to navigate within smoke-filled structures. Entering burning structures where visibility may be limited or near zero due to dense smoke can result in firefighters becoming lost, disoriented, or separated from their crews.  Pathfinder allows firefighters navigate in these environments by laying a breadcrumb trail on the way in to follow on the way out. To do this, the Pathfinder unit uses a combination of embedded IoT sensors and radio frequency technology to landmark the route out of the building while also providing situational awareness information to the Incident Commander (IC) located externally, to track firefighters progress. Ultimately it reduces the rescue minutes needed to save people in distress while safely guiding firefighters within the building.

“The Pathfinder devices can be placed anywhere the search team deem strategic.  Each unit acts like a radio beacon, transmitting both a trail for firefighters to follow, a temperature reading, the location of firefighters within, and allowing a virtual map of the building to be constructed.  This helps rapid intervention should a firefighter get into difficulty and is a huge advancement in rescue technology,” said Martin Trainor who has patented the Pathfinder Search and Rescue Way-Finder System. 

Speaking about the technology, Joris Vreeke from ADAPT’s Design and Innovation Lab said: “Sensors communicate with the Pathfinder devices to build a more complete picture of the environment in real-time.  The data they transmit is turned into intelligence that is actionable, helping alert firefighters of the exit path using an audible alarm and a bright flashing illuminated visual cue.  Specific voice messages are also incorporated into the unit to identify key insights such as a ‘landmark’, ‘door’, ‘searched area’, and ‘hazard’. We are also looking into having the hazard messages customised to local protocol and available in different languages.”

In 2017 there were 41 fatalities from fires attended by fire brigades in Ireland.  Pathfinder’s sensor technology can potentially find people faster in an emergency helping firefighters quickly search as much of the building as possible to locate anyone still inside with the aim of reducing the number of fatalities from fires in the future.  It is anticipated the Pathfinder Search and Rescue Way-Finder System will go into production in 2019.