L.A. Fire Department’s new firefighting robot tested in major Downtown blaze – Daily Breeze

A fire in a Downtown Los Angeles textile business Tuesday, Oct. 13, became the first real-world trial in the United States of the Thermite RS3, a $278,000 robot recently donated to the city’s fire department.

“It was being trailered on a truck to this location for the demonstration today,” Los Angeles Fire Capt. Eric Scott said Tuesday afternoon at an LAFD training site center near Dodger Stadium. “Instead, it was re-diverted to an active fire.”

The LAFD is the first fire department in the country to add the RS3 — which stands for Robot Solution 3 — to its toolbox. The stout, remote-controlled machine with tank treads and a bright yellow paint job was sent into “a major emergency structure fire,” that broke out on the 800 block of South Crocker Street at about 4:45 a.m.

About 130 firefighters worked over three hours to extinguish flames fueled by rolled fabrics that spread to adjacent businesses. One of them suffered heat related injuries.

“These are the exact types of environments that we are looking at,” Scott said.  “When you have potential structural compromise where walls can fall in, roofs can collapse, and there’s no life hazard or person inside who needs rescuing, we don’t want to put our firefighters in harm’s way.”

The robot can enter collapsing buildings, burning oil refineries and other situations that might be too dangerous for humans. It can reach the hottest, most intensely burning portions of a fire and attack it with a 2,500 gallon-per-minute stream. That can potentially “result in faster extinguishment,” and a more efficient use of water, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

The RS3, with a diesel engine, has enough horsepower to haul livestock on a trailer or shove a full-sized sedan sideways across concrete. It easily rolls over rough terrain and debris, and could carry hoses and other supplies to crews in remote areas.

The robot can run for up to 20 hours and as far as 500 meters away from its operator, but it does have some limitations, Scott said. It’s too wide and heavy to go up most staircases, for example.

“I have no doubt that our resourceful firefighters will find many more uses that I have not even thought about,” Terrazas said.

The chief became interested in the RS3 after watching firefighters in Paris use a robot to battle flames at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2019, and approached the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation about raising funds to obtain one, the nonprofit’s president, Liz Lin said. The organization landed grants from the Elon Musk Foundation and the Tides Foundation, which paid for the unit donated to the LAFD.

“You can’t place a value on life,” Lin said. “It’s all about firefighter safety.”

The RS3 drew a mixed reaction and a lot of curiosity from firefighters who were working during its maiden mission, Scott said.

“You get some proponents for technology and learning the obvious benefits of more tools in yourtool box, and some are a little apprehensive,” he said. “We’ll have to play it out, give some time to determine what environments are best to use it in.”

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