Despite rigorous training and protective clothing, tens of thousands of firefighters suffer burns in the line of duty every year. But a good number of such injuries are avoidable.
Because most firefighter gear is heat resistant up to a certain temperature, the insulation can also numb a firefighter’s senses to how hot their surroundings really are. Combine this with adrenaline, which can dull our bodies’ ability to feel pain, and firefighters are sometimes simply not realizing they’re getting burned in the first place.
A new smart suit could curb these injuries by alerting firefighters to dangerous temperatures, thanks to built-in sensors.
Developed by researchers at the Belgian innovation hub Imec, the protective suit has electronic temperature sensors integrated into the textiles. A coating makes the electronics resistant to possible contamination, like from the firefighter’s sweat, and the batteries for the system are housed in a case that is also protected against high temperatures.
When a firefighter wearing this sensor-integrated suit is at risk of getting burned, the system emits a warning signal from a speaker close to the firefighter’s neck. The sensors start to warn at around 60° Celsius (140°F) measured in the inner layer, meaning that heat has penetrated through the suit. When the temperature becomes too high, the firefighter receives an audible warning signal so that he can make the right decision in good time.
While there’s still work to be done, it’s safe to say that in the near future, these sensors will be a regular part of firefighter’s jackets.