Firefighting is a dangerous business, whether it's a building fire or a brush fire gone out of control. Just one of the dangers they face is succumbing to heat stress. To help get a more accurate read on what's really happening inside their body, Australian firefighters swallowed a "data pill" during a training exercise to test its efficacy as a safety tool.
The trial involved 50 firefighters who swallowed an Equivital EQ02 Life Monitor capsule; they were then tasked with removing 20 people from a burning building. During the exercise a thermometer and transmitter in the pill sent data to a device on the chest that then relayed data to an external computer. The data includes things like skin temperature, heart and respiration rates, and core body temperature.
Should any of these measurements spike too quickly, that firefighter can be removed from the fire to an area to cool down and be treated if necessary. The pill is passed later through normal body functions.
Though one might think firefighters have a good handle on their levels of stress and exhaustion as they fight a fire, they don't have the full picture of what's happening inside their bodies. Core temperatures can rise without them knowing it, causing heat stress, dehydration, collapse, and even cardiac arrest.
This was clearly demonstrated when firefighters in Australia struggled against heat exhaustion to fight one of their country's most devastating bush fires — the 2009 Black Sunday fires. The fires and heat were so intense they leveled entire towns. The problems they faced during that fire led to the search for greater information about how to stave off devastating heat stress.
It's critical research as firefighters in Australia are facing the hottest temperatures on record in many areas, and over 120 active brush fires over the past few weeks. As the US stares down a drought in many areas it could be valuable information on our shores as we hit summertime highs and the potential for our own brush fires.
It's worth noting that the same Equivital EQ02 LifeMonitor used in the test is the same one used by Felix Baumgartner to track his vitals during his 23-mile sky dive, so it can withstand some rigorous use. Nevertheless, researchers will be testing the capsule at temperatures between 200 to 1100 degrees Fahrenheit to further put it through its paces for the firefighting environment.