NASA works to improve fire shelters for firefighters


June of 2013 a devastating tragedy unfolded as the Yarnell Hill Fire forces 19 hotshots to deploy their fire shelters.

None survived.

NASA documented the tragedy in a chilling video.

The loss inspired NASA Space and others to think there has to be a better way to protect those in a fire fight when they get trapped by flames.

“When we learned about the tragedy at Granite Mountain then we began to wonder if some the material we were working on could improve fire shelters and NASA independently had the same idea and when we realized we shared that common interest we began to work together,” said Steve Miller, part of the NASA team designing the new fire shelter.

Steve Miller and Associates Research Foundation in Flagstaff joined the NASA team that is looking for a better fire shelter.

“This is all about buying time in a life or death situation where there is no other way for a firefighter to escape.”

Instead of looking for a new fire shelter material, the team is designing a fire shelter using standard aerospace materials.

“We’re reentering the atmosphere so is there any potential we could use these thermal protection systems to improve shelters they’re using for these entrapment situations,” said Miller.

The standard shelter and new design is a sandwich of materials, that include fiberglass insulation used in aerospace, a high temperature plastic film, and a gas barrier. The end goal is to buy time for a firefighter who has deployed the tent.

Convective heat is what they are most concerned about. In fact the name of the NASA team is CHIEFS: Convective Heat Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters.

“Because the winds move at 70 miles an hour and carry a lot of heat and they transfer it into a tent very quickly so we need to improve that component of this to protect the firefighters for a longer time,” said Miller.

The US Forest Service, and Miller introduced the new design to Senator John McCain and a group of wildland firefighters in Flagstaff in July.

Senator McCain asked the US forest service firefighters how much confidence they had in the emergency fire shelter.

But the firefighters also acknowledged they would not want to be without it as a last resort.

The new design of the fire shelter is still in research and development says Miller, but will be ready for final testing next year.

The Forest Service wants to test prototypes by next summer and perhaps have the new shelter ready for use by 2018.


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