Urban and industrial fires, fueled in-part by increasing density, also continue to prove dangerous. Emergency response services are a critical part of every well-functioning city. But while more technology is woven into the fabric of our cities every day, first responders rarely see the benefits of new tech, and the fire service has so far lacked investment in bringing its systems into the 21st century.
The particular challenges for firefighters in urban environments include working in smoke-filled mazes of unfamiliar warehouses, factories, apartment buildings or commercial developments, facing infernos with limited knowledge of their surroundings – daunting to even the most seasoned and experienced among them. For volunteer firefighters, the job is even more perilous.
Tackling these blazes, sometimes in their hundreds or even thousands, our first responders need the best systems and equipment to be able to effectively extinguish without endangering their own safety. But constantly monitoring exactly where these brave individuals are located – in the midst of chaos, smoke, and debris – is currently a rudimentary process involving whiteboards and two-way radios, leaving much room for error. Over the past decade, 200 deaths and 9,000 injuries have resulted from confusion during firefighting operations in the US alone.
It’s clear that lateral thinking is needed to help introduce high-tech products and software into the fire service, in order to provide a better tracking system and to save lives. As a volunteer firefighter for five years, Patrick O’Connor witnessed the issues firsthand. Following a tragedy in his brigade, resulting in the loss of two firefighters, he decided to do something about it.
“Really what started it was we suffered a loss of two firefighters due to unseen confusion. They were sent into the building to go find a firefighter because the building was about to collapse. But it wasn’t accounted for correctly, so they went in to find people who weren’t even there, and they ended up falling through the floor,” says O’Connor, founder of 3AM Innovations – an URBAN-X Cohort 06 company.
So while working a full-time job running restaurants , O’Connor began moonlighting into the early hours, spending the best part of two years researching ways he could use technology to develop a more advanced tracking method for firefighters. Regularly crashing out in his home office, O’Connor chose to name his company 3AM as a nod to these late nights.
Founded in 2015, the Buffalo-based startup specializes in technology for the fire service. Specifically, it has developed a new system that allows fire chiefs to monitor the locations of their squad from a custom-designed device, or a smartphone app, that updates in real-time and does not require a GPS signal – which can be disrupted by buildings, topography, or even dense foliage, and therefore prove inaccurate in some of the situations that firefighters find themselves in regularly.