Fighting fire from the sky

The use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is being developed for use in major operations.

They will complement other unmanned and electric vehicles that were unveiled yesterday to about 1,000 guests and participants at the SCDF Workplan Seminar at ITE College East.

The annual event is meant to review and reveal SCDF's plans from the past year and for the year ahead.

A chemical fire at a warehouse was used as an example of how SCDF's assets could be used to battle the blaze.

The fire is detected within seconds by the new fire and smoke tele-camera (Fast) system, which will be installed in warehouses. Conventional smoke and heat detectors require at least a few minutes to detect a fire.

The UAVs, which are equipped with cameras, swoop in to allow the SCDF to assess the fire from various angles.

Commanders then send in unmanned fire-fighting machines (UFMs), which are remotely controlled and can withstand temperatures of up to 600 deg C.

The UFMs get to the heart of the blaze to douse it with intense water mists, water jets and foam.

Then come the mobile transporters: modified Segways. Segways, which are two-wheeled electric vehicles, were chosen to do the job as they are smaller and more mobile than fire bikes.

These allow firefighters to enter affected areas quickly while detecting air toxicity levels. This information is transmitted to command vehicles nearby.

The gathering of air samples is done by systems built into the vehicle.

Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Chua, 40, the assistant director of the SCDF's Hazmat department, said getting their various assets to work together would make it more efficient to fight fires.

He said: "Mobile teams used to be just on foot, making it cumbersome. But the new equipment will enable a more effective approach, saving tens of minutes.

"And every minute, every second, is crucial in saving lives."

The equipment that SCDF will be using is based on technology that is available to the masses, like drones and the Segway.

They have been adapted and heavily modified and fitted with parts including GPRS systems and toxicity detectors.


At the seminar yesterday, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran praised the SCDF for its culture of innovation and technology development.

Commenting on its use of drones, he said: "This capability will allow SCDF to do an aerial mapping of the incident sites and have a better appreciation of the risks so as to better plan the safe and effective deployment of officers during operations."

Other equipment showcased included the augmented reality system for vehicle crash rescue training. This is a pair of goggles that allows trainees to face realistic scenarios in a virtual reality environment.

Mr Iswaran added: "SCDF must sustain operational excellence and readiness, not just to meet today's challenges but also to ensure that its operational capabilities remain effective for the future."

This article was first published on April 18, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.