1 May 2002
NASA blazing fire protection trails
NASA and the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC) have teamed to develop and commercialize advanced fire protective gear designed to allow firefighters to battle a blaze longer and endure high heat for longer periods of time. The technology could also prove useful for high-heat industrial applications, such as steelmaking.
Under an agreement with NASA’s Johnson Space Center, NTTC will develop, test, and evaluate a prototype suit and glove derived from NASA space suit technology.
“This is revolutionary equipment that will provide three to four times more protection for firefighters and first responders than what is currently available,” said Mike Lucey, NTTC Emergency Response Technology (ERT) program manager. The ERT program recently received $1.5 million in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 2002 spending bill.
NTTC will lead the effort to find companies interested in manufacturing and distributing the equipment.
“The equipment basically incorporates new, more fire-retardant materials, distributes weight better, and feels lighter by providing a greater range of motion,” said Grethe Lindemann, NTTC director of technology-based economic development. Lindemann is leading the commercialization of the technologies selected by the ERT program.
Finding, or creating, a company that can manufacture the equipment at a price affordable for an average-sized fire department is of utmost importance to NTTC, Lindemann said. NTTC has determined there is indeed a strong need for such equipment throughout the emergency response community, he added.
“This program is full of potential, particularly economic development potential,” said Lindemann. “NTTC is very open and receptive to working with existing companies in the state and nation, as well as start-up companies. Ultimately, it is about the commercialization of technologies designed to keep the emergency responder safe on the job.”
The foundation of the program is based on guidance from an Emergency Response Technology Advisory Group, comprising a core group of internationally recognized senior emergency managers from across the U.S., primarily senior fire and rescue department officials. David Paulison, fire chief of Miami Dade (Florida) Fire Rescue and original chairman of the advisory group, was recently nominated by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. Fire Administration.
Once the ERT’s advisory group has validated a technology as meeting the identified prioritized areas of need, Lindemann said, NTTC will seek to help the technology’s developer through the remaining steps of commercialization, which may span financing, manufacturing, and distribution assistance. The goal is to transform the prototype technology into an affordable, operationally suitable product, he said.
“In this era of war on terrorism fought on our own shores, the first line of defense includes the American fire service,” said Mario H. Trevino, chief of the San Francisco Fire Department. “The NTTC program seeks to provide firefighters and paramedics with tools to bolster their arsenal and to keep them safe and alive.”
Lucey added: “The NTTC program has immediate access to major fire departments and FEMA urban search and rescue teams to evaluate new technologies using collective evaluation plans and beta test locations throughout the U.S. and abroad. The ERT program provides the vital link between the needs of the emergency response community and the developers of the technologies that can help us remedy the problem.” IT
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