Los Angeles Fire Department Purchases First Robotic Firefighting Vehicle
Denrie Caila Perez posted on October 29, 2020 |
The Thermite RS3 will function as support and extension during firefighting missions.
Sale of the Thermite RS3 to the Los Angeles Fire Department, the first robotic firefighting vehicle in the United States. (Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Fire Department and Howe and Howe)
Sale of the Thermite RS3 to the Los Angeles Fire Department, the first robotic firefighting vehicle in the United States. (Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Fire Department and Howe and Howe)

The Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) has a new robotic recruit. 

The Thermite RS3 is the first robotic firefighting vehicle in the United States. This acquisition also marks the first commercial sale of a robotic firefighting vehicle and is the first domestic sale for the Thermite RS3 from Howe and Howe. 

Prior to its introduction at an Oct. 13 news conference hosted by the LAFD, the robot was immediately called to action earlier in the day when a structure fire broke out in the Downtown Los Angeles fashion district.

The Thermite robotic firefighter is a support robot and serves as an extension that lets fire responders maintain a safer distance from flames during particularly dangerous missions. The machine has a wide chassis and a low center of gravity, making it ideal for navigating rugged terrain and dealing with exposure to extreme elements. A modular design approach with a wide stance was applied in order to allow for additional equipment, such as a plow assembly, to be loaded onto the vehicle. It also has a nozzle on the front that can shoot or spray both water and foam at 2,500 gallons per minute.

In addition to that, the Thermite can push obstructions, including vehicles, out of its path and can also pull over 8,000 pounds using its winch. The vehicle is equipped with cameras and will be primarily controlled via a remote that will be operated by trained firefighters. Thanks to its multi-mission capability, the LAFD says that they will be using the Thermite for various applications, including active assistance during firefighting and training. LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas also shared that the robotic firefighting vehicle will be an ideal addition to the department’s Urban Search and Rescue toolkit while preventing their firefighters from being put in “unnecessary danger.”

LAFD Capt. Erik Scott also expressed his enthusiasm for the robotic firefighting vehicle while watching it in action. 

"What we had was a large one-story commercial building,” he said. “It was housing piles of textiles, multiple rolls of fabric." 

When the Thermite arrived, it was able to push piles of wet debris out of the way to create a safe path for firefighters to do their work. According to Scott, the decision to procure the vehicle was made after seeing a similar robot used during the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris last year.

The manufacturer of the robot, Howe and Howe, which is a subsidiary of Textron Systems, also expressed their optimism for the future of the vehicle. 

“The sale and delivery of our Thermite RS3 to the Los Angeles Fire Department represents the first commercial robotic firefighting vehicle in the United States," said Paul Ford, Howe and Howe program manager. "We continue to work with multiple other large municipalities within the United States regarding implementing this technology.”

The purchase of the Thermite RS3 is reported to be around $277,000 and was made through the LAFD Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the department. Fundraising to acquire the vehicle was done over the span of six to eight months, according to Liz Lin, LAFD Foundation president. Grants were also provided by the Tides Foundation and Musk Foundation.

The Thermite will be housed at the Urban Search and Rescue team’s headquarters at Fire Station 3 in Downtown Los Angeles. Scott said that it will be deployed when necessary using a trailer towed via a pickup truck.

For more information, visit http://www.roboticfirefighters.com/.

For more news and stories, check out how GITAI aims to bring autonomous robots to space here.

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