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Emerging Technologies: Wearables

posted Apr 3, 2017, 12:54 PM by Ed Mills - OIT   [ updated Apr 6, 2017, 10:40 AM ]

I remember the day I first heard about “wearable technology.”  How cool to have technology in a compact device - this used to be the stuff of childhood science fiction?!  Today wearables are everywhere and many are thinking about new and innovative ways to use them. The most common wearables are wrist worn devices that monitor vitals and become an extension of the smart devices on someone’s hip or in their bag. These devices provide data and communication capabilities without requiring the responder to pull out his smartphone to access the device capabilities. Manufacturers are beginning to put sensors in smart devices and embedding them in personal protective equipment (PPE) that will gather and analyze physiological data. These sensors glean information, providing insights into the physical condition of the firefighter such as temperature, signs of dehydration, heart rate, blood pressure, and respirations.1 Additionally, future smart devices may function as a carbon monoxide (CO) detector or a wind speed/direction gauge.


Let’s imagine the annual “pack test” to obtain a yearly “Red Card.” Wildland firefighters could have Band 14 enabled devices, wrist wearables, and sensor enabled clothing. As a firefighter is approaching the second mile mark of his pack test his wrist device warns of an impending cardiac episode based on his vitals that have been analyzed and recorded over the last mile. Dispatch receives the wrist device alert and dispatches a paramedic unit responding from three miles away. The paramedics arrive and deploy an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) that begins scanning the scene for data from the firefighter’s wearable device. Once the connection is made between the two devices, key information is transported from the wearable to the AED that will help the paramedics assess and treat the firefighter. Innovations in wearable technologies merging with tools already in use will provide critical information automatically eliminating the sole reliance on a witness to the medical emergency and much more.


1 Sensors are being designed to be “soft” and will stretch  for integration in the firefighters PPE to provide real-time physical fitness assessment.