Developing a ‘Wireless Helmet’ for Firefighters
[POSTECH-Pohang Nambu fire station jointly develops a firefighter’s helmet
with an integrated transceiver]
The sheer magnitude of which modes of communication have advanced in recent times are evident throughout our daily lives. With the advent of the hyper-connected era in developed societies, it is becoming more difficult to understand or accept the fallout from a failure of communication. This is even more so if the fallout involves real injuries and casualties.
At approximately 3:50 PM on December 21, 2017, a vehicle parked in a commercial building in Jecheon, South Korea caught on fire from electric heating wires being installed in the parking lot. The flames then rapidly engulfed the entire eight-story building. Twenty-nine people died and another thirty-six were injured. This was the worst fire in Korea since 2008.
In the aftermath, pundits were quick to point out that the firefighters were equipped with outdated radio transceivers that malfunctioned and failed during the critical ‘Golden Time’ and exacerbated the tragic outcome. When a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death, it is naturally imperative that firefighters are equipped with tools that assist rather than hinder. However, existing two-way radios are cumbersome and at worst cannot be used during the critical moments that they are most needed.
In response, the research team led by Professor Wonbin Hong from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Pohang University of Science and Technology, in collaboration with the Pohang Nambu Fire Station, has developed a firefighter’s helmet with an integrated radio transceiver. The embedded antenna and speaker will ensure reliable communication to firefighters in the most critical of moments.
Up until now, firefighters clipped their handheld two-way radios onto their firefighting suits. In the intense moments, firefighters were unable to use the radios because their hands would be tied up in battling the inferno. Furthermore, ambient noise made incoming transmissions effectively inaudible. Earphones have been used to resolve this issue, but if they fell out, the firefighters would not be able to get them back in because of their thick firefighting gloves.
The research team identified these issues and turned their attention to the firefighting helmets. Since the helmet is an essential safety equipment that is always worn and is closest to the cranium of the firefighter, the team developed an effective and elegant solution whereby the firefighters would be equipped with a hands-free mode of communication built into their helmets.
After two months of research, the team developed the wireless communication helmet with an integrated hands-free transceiver. Furthermore, the extremely lightweight antenna and speaker are both modular and waterproof so that they can easily be detached and rinsed with water for maximum versatility.
This achievement is even more notable due to its immediate real-world safety applicability through a collaborative foundation between POSTECH’s outstanding research capacity and the local municipality.
Hak-Soo Shim, the Manager of Preventive Safety at Pohang Nambu Fire Station, said, “Through the many years of working in the field, I felt a pressing need to improve radio communications.” He expressed his anticipation in the new helmet and said, “It is my wish that this new helmet developed with POSTECH will be made available to all firefighters nationwide and contribute to saving the lives and protecting the property of everyone.”
Professor Hong expressed his enthusiasm and said, “I truly feel rewarded to be able to utilize the radio miniaturization techniques for wireless applications so that firefighters are empowered to carry out rescue operations more safely.” He added, “As emergency rescue operations are directly related to the safety of all of us, I will actively collaborate to utilize any and all technologies for the betterment of society.”