One of the first things firefighters inspect after coming on duty is our SCBA; we make sure there's enough air in the bottle and that all the gauges work properly. We also check to make sure our P.A.S.S. device will sound off if and when needed. But the one problem with hearing the P.A.S.S. device frequently is that we become desensitized to the noise it produces. Every time we hear a P.A.S.S. alarm go off on the fireground we don't immediately think a firefighter is down; instead the first thing that comes to mind is that one of our firefighters needs to move around and reset their alarm. Another problem with P.A.S.S. alarms: They don't provide any directions to the location of a downed firefighter. And when several firefighters are down the situation can become extremely complicated.
To simplify the task of locating a downed firefighter Exit Technologies has developed the Tracker FRT the first firefighter rescue transceiver. Adapted from avalanche rescue technology the device uses a low-band radio frequency to transmit signals on the fireground up to 150 feet away under ideal conditions; it can also "see" through walls.
Along with the Tracker FRT the company offers the Tracker E.T. which stands for "egress transmitter." The idea behind the egress transmitter is as simple as leaving a cookie crumb near an exit. Should a firefighter become disoriented inside a structure all they have to do is hit the E.T. search button on the Tracker FRT. The FRT will then provide them with the location of the nearest Tracker E.T. which will show them the way out. Note: For this month's column I tested the Tracker FRT only.
The unit has only two buttons for operation making it very simple to operate and it's activated by removing a key from the back of the unit. This can be done by tethering a cord to the apparatus so that when a firefighter steps off the apparatus the key is removed automatically. It can also be done by using a key that's attached to the carrying case. Once activated the unit automatically goes to standby mode; the four modes of operation are standby exit transmitter search firefighter search and transmit. In the exit transmitter mode the unit seeks out the nearest Tracker E.T. The firefighter search mode helps locate a downed firefighter who uses the transmit mode to send out a signal.
As a preliminary test I used two Tracker FRTs to get an idea of how the device worked. After setting off the first Tracker inside an office building I walked outside. The Tracker I carried picked up the signal until I had traveled 32 meters away from the building which was consistent with the manufacturer's information. I also tested the motion-sensing capability of the Tracker to see if it would go off if a downed firefighter wasn't capable of manually depressing the transmit button. After several seconds the unit went into transmit mode which led me straight to it.
A local firehouse provided the location for my next test. I began by instructing one firefighter to take the first Tracker FRT to an undisclosed part of the building. After about five minutes I began to search for him using my Tracker. The first thing I noticed is that the device not only uses a digital readout to tell you how many meters you are from a downed firefighter it also uses sound. As I got closer to the "downed firefighter " the FRT chirped louder and more frequently. I was really impressed by the fact that there were two ways of determining my distance from the downed firefighter.
For the third test I wanted to see if someone with no knowledge of the Tracker FRT could use it to find the downed firefighter. I gave my device to the station lieutenant who was on the first floor of the firehouse along with basic instructions on how to use it. Within a very short period of time he was able to locate the firefighter who had positioned himself on the second floor. The lieutenant used the sound portion of the device to get a location of the downed firefighter and then used the digital readout in meters to determine that the downed firefighter was one floor above him. Everyone was impressed as was I with the device's ability to find the exact location of the downed firefighter instead of having to guess where he was by following the sound of a P.A.S.S. alarm.
The only faults I see with the Tracker FRT involve the components surrounding the device. The pouch that holds the Tracker is not strong enough for fire service use. It needs to be built of a stronger canvas and with better clips for securing it to our bunker gear. The Tracker also comes with a tether provided by another company but it was difficult to strap to bunker gear.
The price of the Tracker FRT is reasonable; one device costs $400. To outfit an apparatus with four firefighters costs $1 850 which includes four Tracker FRTs and one Tracker ET.
The Tracker FRT from Exit Technologies provides the technology necessary to find a downed firefighter quickly. Firefighters have needed this technology for some time so any department that decides to purchase one will greatly benefit from doing so.
Exit Technologies' Tracker FRT
+ Gives the exact location of firefighters in meters and with sound;
+ Cost effective; and
+ Easy to learn and operate.
- Case and tether cord aren't durable enough for firefighters.
2820 Wilderness Place Unit H
Boulder CO 80301