Dubai outfits firefighters with jetpacks: How firefighting has changed

Firefighters in Dubai may soon use jetpacks to fight fires among the city’s record-high skyscrapers.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters
A man wearing a jetpack comes in for a landing inside Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome during the second night of the Carnival parade, Feb. 15, 2010. Jet packs may soon be used more practically as firefighting tools in Dubai skyscrapers.

"Back to the Future 2" may have been too optimistic in promising hoverboards by 2015, but technology is offering a consolation prize: jetpacks.

The Dubai Civil Defense Operations Department has ordered 20 jetpacks for their firefighters, Russell Hotten reported for the BBC. The government has called them a practical solution to fighting fires in the city's record-high skyscrapers. 

"We see them performing a first-responder role," Ali Hassan Almutawa, director of the Dubai Civil Defense Operations Department, told the BBC. "Sometimes we have challenges or difficulties to reach the top floors of those buildings."

The department will include thermal imaging cameras with the jetpacks, with that focus in mind. 

They also plan to test jetpack "mule train" possibilities as well, flying empty jetpacks up to people stranded at the top of buildings, who can then fly down to safety. 

Dubai has ordered the jetpacks from New Zealand company Martin Aircraft, which plans to deliver them next year.

Firefighting technology in the US has gone a different direction.

In February, the US Navy unveiled a prototype for a remotely operated, two-legged firefighting robot that can walk and use fire hoses in areas too dangerous for humans.

"We set out to build and demonstrate a humanoid capable of mobility aboard a ship, manipulating doors and fire hoses, and equipped with sensors to see and navigate through smoke," said Thomas McKenna, the human-robot interaction manager for the Office of Naval Research, in a press release. 

Fire-protective clothing remains one of firefighting's biggest innovations, because it enabled firefighters to enter burning buildings in relative safety to put out the fires from within.

An experimental technology promises to take firefighting masks to the next level, doubling as a hands-free thermal scan camera. With a Thermal on Demand helmet, firefighters can see heat patterns as they move through a smoke-filled building with low visibility, reports the Lowell Sun. 

Only two prototypes are in use so far, but many other firefighters have expressed interest.

"What it gives us is vision when there is none," said Battalion Chief Brian Fink of the New York Fire Department to the Lowell Sun.

Fire departments are also looking at technology to improve response times, reported professors and firefighters Jake Roades and Tom Jenkins in 2012.

"Technological improvements for our business have only just begun," they wrote.

And that's before they'd heard about the jetpacks.

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