The events of 9-11-2001 revealed that the FDNY did not have a reliable method to account for all members responding to an incident.
That short, but laden, statement by Edward Baggott, Deputy Assistant Chief with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), sums up one of the greatest problems for first responders. Who exactly is on a scene? Where are they? Are they safe?
A firefighter tracking system developed as a direct response to that need is now in use at FDNY, thanks to the vision and expertise of a dedicated team at the Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL) Force Protection/Emergency Response (FP/ER) lab. The Active-RFID Tracking System for First Responders is comprised of a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag worn by the firefighter, a special RFID reader and mobile data terminal (MDT) installed in the response vehicle, and an RFID server at headquarters, connected via cellular network. When a crew boards an RFID-equipped vehicle, the system reads the tags and transmits the list of names to headquarters.
This puts FDNY light years ahead of where it was on 9-11. To date, the system has been installed in 15 vehicles and 15 companies across the Department.
Traditionally, each company officer kept a list of personnel in his pocket, and left a copy of that list in the vehicle when firefighters were working an incident. But the events of 9-11 showed the need to maintain an offsite record. With input from FDNY, the NRL team developed the EBF-4, or electronic riding list, to do precisely that as an integrated part of the RFID tracking system. Now, a battalion chief can instantly compile a list of personnel at an incident, segregated into present and working on or near the truck, and present on the scene but out of range, presumably in the building. This puts FDNY light years ahead of where it was on 9-11. To date, the system has been installed in 15 vehicles and 15 companies across the Department.
David DeRieux of NRL initially visualized using RFID, and ultimately co-invented and patented the technology. George Arthur, also of NRL, helped shape the architecture of the system, and was a key player in reducing the technology to practice. The technology transfer began in 2006 with an agreement between NRL and FDNY, culminating in 2012 with a negotiated nonexclusive, royalty-free license agreement.
The active-RFID tracking system developed by the committed team at NRL is a stellar example of the ways technology transfer returns vitally important benefits to the nation. It's what we're here for, said Dr. Rita Manak, NRL Office of Research and Technology Applications representative. Exactly this kind of collaboration.