Wednesday, June 24, 2020

We're baaaaak!


In case you just woke up from a CV-19-induced coma, the world as we knew it is not likely to return anytime soon.

Flattening the curve has occurred if you examine the national data. But there are outbursts in varying spots. And for as many states as there are, there are differing protocols.

In an attempt to salvage the season, this memo will describe how we’ll run Challenge events as safely as possible. Canceling the season was not an option.

What we know about the pandemic continues to morph; and yet, we still don’t know for certain a lot about this virus. Testing is not reliable and there’s no vaccine. Wearing a cloth mask of any sort has been determined to be the best and most effective method of avoiding contact along with social distancing.

People with co-morbidity (meaning other unrelated health issues like obesity, CAD, etc.) are at higher risk for contracting the virus, showing symptoms and death. Males seemingly are at greater risk. Kids not so much. Older individuals are at a much higher risk. Physical fitness comes with benefits.

The virus dies in sunlight. And infection outdoors is very unlikely. Close proximity is a risk factor as micro-drops of liquid from speech travel about three feet during normal conversation. Sneezing is the worst as it can propel droplets up to 25-feet.

Historically we have stringently adhered to NIOSH regulations for sanitization of the 3M | Scott Air-Pak. However, it was decided that to completely avoid any appearance of risk, we would wear the Air-Pak but not don the facepiece – until such time as the “All Clear” signal sounded.

In order to get our 15 events in during this calendar year, the finals will be pushed back. We can’t say when the season will end at this time. For individuals who wish their time to count for qualification as a member of the Lion’s Den, you must bring your own 3M | Scott Air-Pak. If you’re prone to falling down at the finish line, we might want to have your own catchers.

It is crucial that the Road Crew take all measures to avoid exposure; this means masks and shields during the event. Also, being compressed into small spaces during this blitzkrieg requires the observance of all of the rules for reducing exposure.

The logistical support for the minimalist tour precludes filling bottles. No merchandise will be sold on-site as well. Venues in most locations will be at fire academies and not open to the public. The economics of this season requires scaling costs way back. In consideration of the reduced overhead, registration fees have been also scaled back to $25 for individuals, $30 for tandems and $50 for relays and $75 for a full team.

The pace at the Challenge will be staggered to avoid the perception of gatherings with a requirement that competitors assist with resetting the course between runs. Times will count towards the GNC award category.

You may run your race without a mask. Clearly, attempting to move >250 liters per minute under heavy exercise while wearing any type of mask is a daunting task. The beauty of the Air-Pak is that it can deliver tidal volumes that support maximal exercise.

A few facts about the Air-Pak and our associated history with the product. Going waaaay back to my role as a backstep firefighter (and yes, we did ride on the tailboard), the cylinders were made of steel and weighed ≈45 pounds. (Yeah; we were real men back then- not). Rarely, these cylinders would explode during filing, sending shrapnel in all directions. Carbon-fiber reduced not only the blast risk but dramatically reduced weight.

But the biggest improvement came with positive pressure- in the mid-1970s. No longer did you have to suck the air out of the bottle; you were no longer “regulated” or “governed” to a submaximal work rate.

The weights of the Air-Pak have changed over time. The backpack frame and accessories have also morphed. What has not changed is the weight of the compressed air gases as a function of the PSI rating. But, more and more air has been compressed as the cylinders have been made more robust and stronger. Nominally, a full tank carries 3.6 pounds of air. Bigger competitors use more air but are out on the course a shorter period of time. Typically, in the 30-minute bottle, half of the air supply is exhausted.

All of this is to say, we have not controlled for, or attempted to standardize the Air-Pak weight over our more than 25 years of association with Scott. You’ll be running in the state-of-the-art system this season. The harness and associated parts will be slightly heavier. It is what it is.

Many of you elect to turn on the by-pass. Never a speed merchant myself, I’ve always felt that the regulator delivered what I needed. No one has run out of air during the six-minute requirement to finish.

I hope that this information is helpful. You’re welcome to ask questions in person, via email or giving me a phone call. I look forward to joining everyone in Florida for World Challenge Championship XXIX. The specifics of an exact date and venue are still in play. You’ll know when we know.

For obvious reasons, this news piece is longer and a lot more detailed than our typical post/email/blog. We’re attempting to predict the unpredictable. So, there may be changes based on new information, regulations, vaccines, testing, or whatever.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Innovative edge-finding AR eyepiece lets firefighters see through smoke


Nobody is at their best in a fire. Firefighters may be a rare breed in terms of their willingness to venture into a deadly blaze, rather than running away from it. However, no matter how brave firefighters may be, there’s no doubt that a fire represents an incredibly physically tough scenario which severely limits mental and physical capabilities. Could cutting-edge technology be used to lend a helping hand?

“When you’re inside a structured fire, it’s difficult to see because there’s smoke everywhere and your senses are impaired,” Sam Cossman, CEO and co-founder of Qwake Technologies, told Digital Trends. “It’s difficult to think because you’re in such a stressful situation, which can cause cognitive function to decline and lead to bad decision-making. And it’s difficult to communicate. If you’ve ever been in a fire you’ll know that it’s like standing next to a freight train. It’s extremely loud and dynamic.”Qwake

To help, Cossman and his colleagues have developed a smart helmet device called C-Thru, a head-up display which fits over one eye within a regular firefighter’s breathing apparatus. This augmented reality feed presents them with a video stream taken from an on-board thermal camera. It then uses some smart artificial intelligence image recognition to show the outlines of objects and people in green; giving the firefighters the ability to see what they’re doing even in the smokiest of rooms. In the process, the team believes that it has created a next-gen first responder tool that harnesses cutting-edge tech to solve a major life-threatening problem.

While firefighters have long carried thermal cameras, these have been handheld devices with small displays that require their users to look away from the scene directly in front of them to be able to use them. That problem would be removed by the use of the hands-free C-Thru device.Sample footage showing the difference between what firefighters see with and without Qwake's C-Thru HUD Qwake

“We’re taking complex information from an environment that could potentially be hazardous or life-threatening, and extending your natural abilities with the use of sensors,” Cossman said. “We then display that sensor information with brain-friendly intuitive cues that could help you get the information you need right when you need it. That is the core underlying goal of our platform.”
A background in extreme exploration

Thirty-eight year old adventurer Cossman said that the impetus for his work at Qwake started half a decade ago.

“My background is in extreme exploration,” he said. “For many years, I’ve been guiding scientific expeditions into remote locations. [In 2015,] we were working with the government in Nicaragua to develop an early-warning system that leveraged A.I. to predict volcanic activity.”


“We started to wonder what would happen if we … [provided] all of them with it — and then connected them.”

The project involved Cossman and others descending 1,200 feet into Masaya, an active volcano in Nicaragua. There, they installed sensors that would allow researchers to measure information such as temperature, humidity, pressure, and carbon dioxide in real-time.

“We couldn’t see where we were going inside this gas-filled crater,” he continued. “I was looking for a tool that would help myself and my team to navigate more effectively in that environment.”

Online, Cossman discovered a concept developed by a Turkish industrial designer named Omer Haciomeroglu. “It was touting the promise of similar functionality to [what we’re creating in 2020], but it wasn’t yet real,” Cossman said. “He and I started looking at what it would take to make it real.”Qwake

Today, Qwake has a team comprised of various researchers from different backgrounds. There’s a neuroscientist, a computer vision expert, a NASA rocket scientist-turned-career firefighter, and more. Cossman says that it is the “art of cross-disciplinary thinking” that has led to the project developing to its current point. It has also seen it expand its ambitions far beyond the limited use-case Cossman originally planned to use the technology for.
First responder tech

The C-Thru system isn’t just about providing firefighters with hands-free thermal vision. The headsets will also make it easier for firefighters to communicate with one another on the job, transmitting data to one another in a way which is far more advanced than the simple push-to-talk radio communication they previously used.

“We started to wonder what would happen if we didn’t just provide one firefighter with this augmented reality tool, but all of them with it — and then connected them,” Cossman said. “That’s when we started realizing that what we were building wasn’t just a vision assistant for one person but an entire visual communication platform, where people would be able to use a whole new visual language to transmit directional cues between parties.”Qwake

Qwake isn’t the only high-tech initiative seeking to help out firefighters. Since 2013, engineers at Italy’s IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia have been working on a robot called Walk-Man, which is designed to serve as a robot emergency responder which could assist human firefighters. Walk-Man can locate the position of fires, walk toward the blaze, and then activate a fire extinguisher. It can also collect images from its environment and send them back to a human emergency team, who can use the data to analyze the situation and guide the robot. Once both this project and Qwake’s C-Thru tech are ready for prime-time, it’s easy to imagine a combination of both being used to transform the way that fires are fought in the 2020s.

When it comes to C-Thru, Sam Cossman said that he is “not at liberty” to yet share all the details about the project, including its exact release date. Nonetheless, he noted that, “We’re looking at 2021 as general availability for this product.” Provided that it lives up to its potential, this could turn out to be a game-changer for the brave men and women firefighters who put their lives at risk on a regular basis.

It won’t come a moment too soon!

Monday, June 1, 2020

A nurse went to New York to work on the front lines — and to find the firefighter who saved her life over 36 years ago


Deirdre Taylor is pictured outside her home in Alexandria, Va., as her family looks on from behind the door. Pugliese, 75, had never had someone track him down to say thank you before, he told The Post on Wednesday.

The former Marine became a New York City police officer for several years before switching over to become a firefighter, working the SoHo neighborhood until he retired in 1996.

For decades, the Daily News front-page article hung in his office, surrounded by all his fire department and Yankees memorabilia.

How could he forget Deirdre? “I’ve had her picture on my wall for 24 years,” he said.

Saving her life was the highlight of his career, he said. He remembers the day clearly. He and his fire company were fixing a broken pipe in SoHo on a frigid December afternoon, when a man came running up Wooster Street, right up to Pugliese, yelling that there was a fire.

Pugliese followed him, taking off at a sprint. The man guided him to the sixth-floor apartment where thick smoke was billowing out, and Pugliese went in. He called out for anyone inside, before finding an artist’s studio engulfed in flames.

Taylor’s mother was crying, “My baby! My baby!” Pugliese remembered. He quickly helped her out of the room before returning on his hands and knees, crawling through the burning studio and blinding smoke for about six feet, when he felt the child.

She was unconscious. He carried her to the living room, where he gave her mouth-to-mouth to bring her back. He rushed down the six flights of stairs to get her to an ambulance, when to Pugliese’s relief, she woke up and started to cry.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Pugliese said, “and thank God we were there.”

Pugliese, who now lives in Spring Lake, N.J., later received a medal of valor for Taylor’s rescue, in a ceremony that is among his most prized memories. He said he dreamed about it as recently as two weeks ago — just as Taylor was trying to track him down.

Taylor’s first two weeks in New York were overwhelming, as she and her colleagues intubated patient after patient struggling to breathe, “something I’ll never forget,” she said. During her time off, she tried on one occasion to go to the firehouse where Pugliese worked, only to find a sign on the door discouraging visitors due to COVID-19.

But finally, last week, Taylor caught a break. A group of firefighters came to the ER to deliver the medical staff pizzas for dinner, to show their appreciation. Taylor followed the group to the ambulance bay, explaining that she was trying to find a likely retired fireman from Ladder No. 20, and did they have any suggestions on how to start?


One of the firemen gave her a phone number to connect her with the fire chief. She called when her shift ended in the morning, explaining her mission to find Eugene Pugliese once more, and bracing herself for bad news.

“Oh, Gene?” the chief told her. “He stops by the firehouse all the time.”

“My heart literally skipped a beat,” Taylor told The Post. “I couldn’t believe it. I really didn’t think he was still going to be around. I really thought I was going to hit a dead end. He said, ‘Yeah, I have his phone number in my cellphone.’ ”

The chief phoned Pugliese right away. Less than an hour later, Taylor’s phone rang.

“It’s Gene Pugliese,” he said. “I’m the firefighter who rescued you that day.”

Finally, Taylor told him what she had been meaning to say.

Taylor said she could only describe the moment as surreal. Pugliese asked if her hair was still blond. It was. He told her the story of the fire, and she told him the story of her life afterward. They learned they had plenty in common. Both were die-hard Yankees fans. Both spent time in the military, Taylor as an Army helicopter pilot in the Connecticut National Guard, Pugliese in Vietnam.

After the call, Pugliese said, “I cried for the rest of the day.”

Pugliese said that learning that the toddler he saved all those years ago is now an emergency room nurse on the front lines of the pandemic has been all the more powerful to him because a former colleague at the firehouse recently died of COVID-19. The battalion chief who died, Al Petrocelli, was the one who nominated Pugliese for the medal of valor award, Pugliese said.

Taylor and Pugliese would have liked to meet in person, but Taylor said it’s too risky given that she is in contact with COVID-19 patients every day. They hope to find a way to meet in the future.

“It’s a shame there’s no baseball,” he said. “I’d love to go to a Yankees game with her, once this has subsided. I’d love to meet her children. I’d love to meet her in the fire station.”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

James Mattis: Let’s honor the fallen by protecting our fragile experiment in democracy

A soldier places a flag in front of a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day in Arlington on Thursday.
A soldier places a flag in front of a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day in Arlington on Thursday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
On Memorial Day this year, we may be keeping social distance from one another, but that cannot detract from the sense of closeness, the sense of community and the sense of shared sacrifice that we feel for one another on a day when we come face-to-face with the human cost of freedom.

What do we owe our fallen and their families on this day? Remembrance, for sure, yet we also owe a keen awareness of what they fought to defend: this great big experiment we call America.

The Founders — most of whom were military veterans — knew that the nation they were forming was an experiment, a test of the idea that people could live together and rule themselves, guided by the spirit of cooperation. The Constitution they devised was itself hammered out among those willing to compromise, giving birth to this experiment.

Upon being elected the first U.S. president, Gen. George Washington at his inauguration said, “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

In his wisdom and humility, Washington saw the daunting challenge of keeping our experiment alive, and the role of American citizens in proving to the world that people didn’t need a king or a tyrant: We, the people, could rule ourselves.

Following the nation’s rugged birth, this radical idea has periodically needed defending by patriots, many of whom have given their lives and whom we honor on this day.

Those include the Union soldiers who gave their last full measure to hold the nation together and cast out the heinous practice of slavery, imported from the Old World, that had been a defect since America’s birth.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s short address dedicating a military cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, he exhorted his listeners to resolve “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln knew he had to say it out loud: This republican form of government could, in fact, perish — unless we fought for it, unless we dedicated our lives to living up to its ideals, unless we were willing to compromise with one another, while working always to improve the fairness of life for every American.

Nearly a century later, President John F. Kennedy — a World War II veteran — echoed that message in his 1961 inaugural address when he said we must be ready to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship . . . to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Generation after generation of patriots have given their all to keep this precious legacy alive. That is why we gather every year to pay our respects to those who went down swinging to protect and defend our Constitution and our way of life.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines serve a country that, even in its most raucous times, is worth defending. They swear to do so at their personal peril, signing a blank check to all the American people, payable with their lives.

Our veterans have learned the hard way, having lost buddies in battle, that this nation has no ordained right to exist. America’s freedoms do not stand unassailed. Dictators and authoritarians look with fear on our freedom, our experiment, our republican model — a model that has long served as an inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere.

We are most indebted to our veterans who fell, and their families, for the survival of this experiment. They can never be fully repaid, but we begin to do so by respecting one another in this land of boundless possibilities, because those who faced down danger and paid the price on our behalf deserve no less.

Many of us enjoy America’s freedom by an accident of birth, yet we all live free in this land by our own choice. It is our responsibility to show respect and genuine friendship to each other as fellow citizens — including those with whom we sometimes disagree — by unifying around our radical idea. That is how we can meet our ultimate responsibility: to turn over to the next generation a republic in better shape than we received it.

Those who fell while wearing our nation’s cloth in defense of freedom, and the Gold Star families of their survivors, paid an everlasting price. Every American owes them a commitment to keeping vibrant the experiment for which they died.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Early Challenge Trivia

The very first Challenge was held at the University of Maryland’s Fire Rescue Institute (MFRI). It was a fitting location since the facility served as the site for the original research (1976-6), funded by the predecessor to FEMA, the NFPCA (National Fire Prevention and Control Administration). Blissfully, the name was shortened to NFA and absorbed into FEMA by the time we started the national program, known by its current title.

The year was 1991. Five of the political jurisdictions in the greater Washington, DC SMA (statistical metropolitan area) participated. Montgomery, Prince Georges, Arlington, Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria were represented by five-person teams.

I recruited a bunch of my fire service buddies to serve as resetters and course officials. We used the drill tower and the first Keiser “slammer”- a prototype that was 9’ long with a painted tray. One Stanley shot mallet, in black rubber had to last for the entire duration (barely).

All of the props excepting the Keiser were provided by MFRI. It was an understatement to say that this was a learning experience. For example, there’s a huge difference in the durability of fire hose, by brand.

Competitors were fed into the tower on a shotgun-style of start. When one firefighter exited, another entered, with each followed by an official with a stopwatch. There were no banners, music or announcer. But there was a group of spectators who cheered wildly for their favorites.

About midway into the event, Jimmy Jarboe, a lieutenant from my department, the City of Takoma Park saw the looming problem of a competitor being lapped. The dummy we were using weighed 175 pounds - the same weight as the current Simulaids Rescue Randy®.

Jimmy sprinted to the pickup line for the dummy drag and took the place of the vacant mannequin. Just this past week, Jimmy, now Fire Chief, and I reminisced, with some laughs about the event.

We had coverage from the now-defunct Fire Chief magazine and the CBS affiliate WUSA channel 9 - all of which would be leveraged for DuPont Nomex and Kevlar taking the show on the road for the first two years.

Ben Barksdale, presently the fire chief of Orlando was there, and continued his presence for over 20 years.

Fire Chief James E. Jarboe, Takoma Park Station Montgomery County MD
The Original “Rescue Jimmy”