Fighting fires safely and effectively by remote control

In the event of a fire, if you see a fireman jabbing on a remote control instead of operating a hand-held jet, do not be alarmed.

He is, in fact, fighting the fire. The unmanned firefighting machine - the newest vehicle on the block for the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) - can be remotely operated from as far away as 300m, or across the length of three football fields.

At 2.3m high, the machine is taller than an average man and is expected to be able to take the place of 10 men.

Able to spray water, mist or foam up to 60m away, it is more powerful than the hand-held water jet currently used.

The unmanned machine has a flow rate of up to 3,000 litres of water per minute - 12 times more than the 250 litres that a hand-held jet is capable of.

The remote-controlled firefighter can be deployed to put out oil refinery, warehouse and even underground fires, said Major Ivan Kwok, commander of Yishun Fire Station, who is in charge of the project.

"It will allow firefighters to perform other tasks, such as search for victims, instead of manning hoses for hours," he said.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who attended the SCDF's workplan seminar yesterday, said: "It gives us tremendous firefighting capability, without compromising the safety of our officers."

The use of unmanned systems is gaining prominence worldwide because they are cheaper and they reduce the need to send personnel to risky areas or hot spots.

SCDF statistics show warehouse fires here increased threefold from seven to 21 last year. One fire involving three warehouses at Jurong Industrial Estate in April last year took about 60 personnel and two hours to bring under control.

Also being explored is an automated system of moving casualties, which could be used when there are mass casualties.

Mr Benedict Koh, president of the Fire Safety Managers' Association, said the system would be able to access areas too dangerous for officers and would also help to alleviate firefighters' physical exhaustion.

The first unmanned firefighting machine has been stationed in Jurong. In July, three more will be deployed, to stations in Changi, Yishun and Jurong Island - areas flagged as potential spots for larger fires.

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