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(July 2008) We all know the dedication of the country’s first-responder community—the hundreds of thousands of selfless men and women who rush to emergency scenes every minute of every day, charging into crumbling buildings enshrouded in flames, saving lives and property. When the alarm sounds, they act, carrying all manner of equipment and gear—some of it good, some of it tailor-made to their needs, some of it less so, and some they perhaps wish they could redesign themselves.
So, a program from the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) that not only allows first responders to communicate their needs and ideas directly to DHS, but also includes them in the testing and evaluation of all that gear, is valuable not only to first responders, but to the people they help every day.
Aimed at first responders, an outreach program called Responder Technologies (R-Tech) was developed for one reason: to find solutions and put them into the hands of America’s heroes—including fire, emergency medical service, law enforcement, explosives ordnance, hazmat, and search-and-rescue workers.
R-Tech does this in two ways: first, it rapidly distributes information on first-responder products and services through a Central Federal Technology Clearinghouse, issuing announcements for innovative solutions and providing guidance to help responders evaluate and purchase technologies.
Second, R-Tech will soon launch an interactive Web page, at www.firstresponder.gov, where first responders will be free to voice their needs and ideas directly to the DHS S&T Directorate for action—unfiltered by any middlemen—as part of an initiative called TechSolutions. The goal of this initiative is to identify and prototype only those technologies actually needed by this vital community—technologies that will deliver a solution to first responders in less than 12 months.
For example, the responder community has told TechSolutions that firefighters desperately need a small, lightweight breathing device that they can wear in hazardous or smoke-filled situations. The device can’t encumber the firefighters or add to the 50-plus pounds of gear they often carry.
“One of the biggest problems we have is the risk of entanglement of our air tanks,” said Randy Griffin, a firefighter from DeWitt, N.Y., who also serves as a first responder liaison at the S&T Directorate. “As we make our way through small openings, and over debris and obstructions, we can get snagged, trapped, or possibly killed.”
So, the S&T Directorate is helping to develop an innovative self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that will allow emergency responders more mobility, as well as more accessibility to confined spaces. The weight has been pared from 30 pounds to 8 pounds, its profile is only 1.75 inches thick, it’s rechargeable, and it’s compatible with existing air supply hoses.
The new low-profile SCBA is just one of many programs and technologies being vetted by R-Tech at first responders’ suggestions. Others include a fire ground compass, an ocular toxin scanner, a 3-D location device and the Dazzler. At least 15 projects are in the works, and more are expected once the TechSolutions website is fully up and running.