How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Save the Lives of Firefighters

Published Dec-18-19

A cognitive platform to take care of firefighter safety in real time.

Prometeo, Spain

The Story:

How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Save the Lives of Firefighters During the summer of 2019 firefighters in Spain battled the worst fires the country had seen for 20 years. From north to south emergency services were out in force to tackle the flames. Spain, like other Mediterranean countries, has seen a rise in the number of wildfires in recent years. The majority are caused by people and further exacerbated by winds and the tinder-dry ground. AcrossEurope, there were more than 2,000 recorded wildfire in 2019, which is three times higher than the average for the previous decade.

Veteran Spanish firefighter Joan Herrera has battled his fair share of forest blazes over the years. Obviously, the conditions are hazardous. Not only is there an immediate risk to life, but also there are long-term health effects. So, he decided to do something to better protect firefighters.

Data Collection

After suffering headaches and breathing problems and having colleagues die in his arms, Herrera teamed up with emergency nurse Vicenç Ferrés Padró to collect data by following teams in the field. The information was gathered manually before, during and after incidents which was time-consuming and cumbersome. So Herrera and Padró, teamed up with data scientists to develop Prometeo, an artificial intelligence-based platform to monitor firefighter health and safety in real time and over the longer term.

The health device is about the size of a smartphone and straps to a firefighter's arm. It has multiple sensors that measure key variables such as temperature, humidity and smoke concentration. It can also keep firefighters safe.

Color-coded alerts are sent in real-time to command centers via a cloud platform. This information can be used to pull firefighters out of a situation if it becomes too dangerous.

"We built Prometeo to resolve a real problem that our firefighters have," said Salomé Valero, the team's product owner. "They have no individualized strategies to protect them from the cumulative effect of the smoke and toxic substances that they can inhale while working on wildfires."

Additionally, each firefighter's information is stored in a Cloudant database, providing a historical view of the data.

Award-Winning Innovation

This novel solution was the Grand Prize winner of IBM's Call for Code 2019 Challenge, an annual open innovation competition for innovative ideas that can help mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

To take the top prize, Prometeo beat more than 180,000 data scientists, students, developers and other individuals from 165 nations.

Next Steps

The Prometeo team picked up a check for USD $200,000 and will receive support from IMB and other partners interested in scaling their solution. The team will also organize field tests in Catalonia and refine the device and dashboard based on what they learn.

At the same time, they're looking for investment to help them bring Prometeo to firefighters in Spain, Europe and across the world.

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