Protecting firefighters by remotely monitoring vital signs

Thursday, 28 September, 2023

Protecting firefighters by remotely monitoring vital signs

With increasing global temperatures and longer fire seasons, keeping firefighters safe has become even more crucial.

An elevated core temperature and dehydration during firefighting can lead to death, making the monitoring of these issues critical to safety both in training and real emergency situations.

According to the 2023 Global Climate Report, from January to July ​​the global surface temperature ranked third warmest in the 174-year record. These rises in temperature lead to longer and more active fire seasons which leads to an increasing necessity for active firefighters. In 2021, overexertion, stress and medical issues accounted for 57% of firefighter deaths in the US.

To address this problem, technology that enables the remote monitoring of firefighters’ vital signs has recently been rolled out at the Emergency Services Academy in Finland. The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Human Thermal Model team, HTM Solutions, successfully deployed a new version of its Cee° application using the Human Thermal Model (HTM), which has the ability to monitor multiple firefighters in real time.

HTM technology delivers a wide range of information, including body core temperature, sweating rate and Physiological Strain Index. HTM estimates these vital signs using individual body composition, such as height and weight, and non-invasive case-dependent information — such as a remotely monitored heart rate — as input data. It offers advanced thermal body parameter values without the need for invasive probes, special pills or direct body temperature measurement.

“Firefighters need to know that their body temperature has not gone too high and this is particularly hard to tell in stressful conditions where firefighters are used to pushing through discomfort,” said Pekka Tuomaala, Principal Scientist at VTT.

“Training and exercising while wearing heavy firefighter gear first impacts cognitive skills and then eventually kills you if you are not made aware of your condition. The ultimate human limit is 40 degrees Celsius and legislation says that 38.5 degrees is the maximum allowed for this dangerous work in most cases.”

Emergency Services Academy Finland is responsible for the education, best practices and training of new firefighters in Finland. Prior to working with HTM Solutions, firefighter students were required to swallow a pill to monitor their body core temperature during training.

“We were considering ways to measure the core temperature of emergency situation students in real time and without inserting uncomfortable measurement devices into the body,” said Pekka Lindholm, Head of Training at Emergency Services Academy Finland.

“VTT had already done testing with our students using the HTM model and a comparison of the consistency of the results of this model against the result given by the pills swallowed or inserted into the body. The new system enables the monitoring of multiple firefighter students from a single smart tablet without the use of expensive and less pleasant pills.”

The benefits of the technology from HTM Solutions for firefighters has now opened the door to other critical and non-critical uses of HTM. This could include athletes or people working in hostile conditions, who may benefit from less invasive and less expensive monitoring.

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