Space Technology Goes to Sea Aboard a Fireboat

Firefighter Chong Kim, Long Beach Fire Department, places the HAZMAT detection unit in its compartment aboard the LBFD’s new state-of-the-art fireboat. (Photo: Heather Golden)

The Aerospace Corporation recently partnered with the Long Beach Fire Department for a project that has the potential to save lives and drastically improve public safety for the city’s residents.

The LBFD is the proud owner of a brand new, state-of-the-art fireboat, permanently docked at the firehouse in the Port of Long Beach. The job of the port’s station is to protect the immediate area from fires and to handle hazardous material incidents in the terminals.

In order to do that, the one-of-a-kind boat comes rigged out with a full CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives) detox area and detection system linked to a network shared by all emergency HAZMAT responders in the greater Los Angeles area. Through this network, all HAZMAT teams can see real-time updates of any incidents within their boundaries. The sensors housed on the boat allow the crew to detect and monitor incidents from a safe distance in order to avoid contamination and remain a viable source of help.

Aerospace research scientist Dr. Karl Westberg, left, and David Lamensdorf, president, Safe Environment Engineering, confer over the strength of the HAZMAT detection network aboard the Long Beach Fire Department’s newest fireboat. (Photo: Heather Golden)

Aerospace research scientist Dr. Karl Westberg, left, and David Lamensdorf, president, Safe Environment Engineering, confer over the strength of the HAZMAT detection network aboard the Long Beach Fire Department’s newest fireboat. (Photo: Heather Golden)

“Without these kinds of systems in place, there are enormous unknowns and safety risks to the public,” said Vaeros’ Matt Begert, who has coordinated all parties involved throughout this project.

While this particular detection system and network has been fully integrated with emergency responders for years, it has never been used off land.  This is the aspect of the system that Aerospace was hired to verify in a first for both the company and the fire department. The Space Science Applications Lab (SSAL) was enlisted to apply their knowledge and experiences in surveillance technologies to this task, demonstrating how space technologies can be applied in other areas.

This verification process happened in two basic stages­ — testing the system within the Aerospace facilities to gain benchmark information, then confirming similar results when the boat was out at sea.

Research scientist Dr. Karl Westberg, Imaging Spectroscopy Department, SSAL, and other members of his team spent time with the system, which was developed by Safe Environment Engineering, in their labs. Once the fireboat arrived in port and the sensors and network installed, Westberg joined Vaeros’ Matt Begert, and David Lamensdorf, president, Safe Environment Engineering, aboard the boat for a test run out to sea.

“I was impressed with the versatility,” Westberg said. “It didn’t seem to matter what instrument you wanted to use, it would be adaptable to this system.”

At more than two miles out, the network held strong, and the system received a green light from all parties.

This is not the end of the story for Aerospace, the LBFD or Safe Environment Engineering. A second boat is under construction and will be on its way to Long Beach sometime next year.

—Heather Golden