Firefighters Demo Real-Time Vitals App
By By Tanmay Bhola
Thursday, January 01, 2015 | Comments

A live demonstration of the BioLink solution at the 2014 Sky Tower Firefighter Stair Challenge in Auckland, New Zealand, revealed the extreme levels of physiological stress that firefighters competing in the challenge endure.

The 10th annual Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge raised more than $884,000 for Leukemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand (LBC). The firefighters raced up 51 flights of stairs wearing full firefighting kit and breathing apparatus weighing up to 25 kilograms. More than 180 brigades and stations were represented in the challenge.

BioLink monitors, in real-time, an individual’s physiological signals, including heart rate, breath rate, movement and core temperature. These signals are communicated via a wireless network to an agency’s control center where software built specifically for an incident response scenario will provide an alert if that person’s physiological readings fall outside a pre-defined safe range.

During the stair challenge 17 May, three firefighters wore a monitoring device as they climbed the 1,103 Sky Tower steps wearing a full firefighting kit. Participants were monitored as they competed in the challenge in the same way that a fire agency’s control center would monitor firefighters in the field and alert them if they were in physiological danger such as heat stress.

Signal strength tests for both voice and data were conducted in the building on a local voice and data-capable Project 25 (P25) digital network to operate the monitoring system days before the climb. Three firefighters had used the device for about a month prior to the event to monitor their progress during training.

The team programed individual limits for each firefighter for heart rate, breathing rate and core temperature. The first firefighter was in the second squad of 10 firefighters to make the climb. The team could tell whether he was moving or standing still by looking at his readings. Once he began the climb, his movements were tracked based on his visual memory unit (VMU) reading, and his heart rate quickly jumped above 160 beats per minute (bpm). During the next 10 minutes and 7 seconds, his heart rate peaked at 197 bpm from a resting rate of 65 bpm, his breath rate hit the red zone, and his activity oscillated in time with him travelling up and between flights of stairs.

As the second and third firefighters competed, the team could watch their performances in real time, seeing how far they tested the limits and for how long. The monitors cold visualize, based on their readings, exactly what the firefighters were doing without being able to see them. For instance, when the VMU jumped above 1.0, the monitors detected that the sprint for the finish line was on.

Each firefighter tested the limits of physical endurance. In one case the team let the competitor know via voice command that there was concern with his readings. He responded and slowed his pace. Too often, it’s not until long after the fact — when it’s too late to intervene — that an individual becomes aware of just how much stress his or her body is under.

Comparing data collected from the training session of one firefighter with the recordings on event day showed that despite establishing a training regime that closely simulated the event, his level of physiological stress increased during the competition in terms of core temperature and breathing rate.

Editor’s Note: For more on the New Zealand climb, see “Firefighters Demo Real-Time Vitals App” on Page 32 of the Quarter 4 2014 issue of RadioResource International magazine.

Tanmay Bhola is a design engineer and BioLink product owner at Tait Communications. His field of expertise is developing multibearer critical communications solutions for emergency services. Bhola works closely with the University of Canterbury’s Wireless Research Centre, supervising research and development projects and usability research. He holds a provisional patent in the area of multiple bearer radio systems.

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