Robot joins Asheville Fire Department HAZMAT response team

The Asheville Fire Department has a new high-tech guest: a newly-acquired robot designed to aid in the department in hazardous materials responses will allow firefighters to handle especially dangerous situations while maintaining a safe distance.

The Talon robot, designed by QinetiQ North America, comes thanks to federal Department of Homeland Security funds allocated to supply the equipment to North Carolina’s seven Regional Response Teams. Regional Response Teams (RRTs) are strategically located throughout the state in order to provide specialized equipment and expertise in case of HAZMAT calls. The Asheville Fire Department is the host agency of RRT 6, which responds to calls in the 20 westernmost counties in North Carolina. The department bids every two years to maintain the role, and has been the host agency since the statewide response system was developed in 1996.

The new robot, says Captain Shane Mackey, is similar to those used in bomb situations in Afghanistan and provides a greater level of safety to responders. It also reduces the number of people on a call who need to go into what HAZMAT responders call the “Hot Zone.” The all-terrain robot is operated remotely, its four cameras, including night-vision and 300X zoom capability, feeding to a portable isolated computer unit operators use for navigation.

Mackey points out that the robot can can operate under water, can withstand a bomb blast, and is strong enough to drag a victim away from the scene of an emergency. Two-way audio communication links allow the machine’s operators to communicate with people on the scene as well.

“There are so many applications,” Mackey says. “It offers us a lot more options.”

Mackey says that the HAZMAT team will soon meet with the Asheville Police Department and its bomb squad to cross train on the equipment.

Click the image below to see the Talon robot in action.