With its bright-yellow armored body, grippy tank-like treads, plow nose and water cannon, the Los Angeles Fire Department’s latest piece of equipment looks more like a Star Wars sidekick than a firefighting assistant.
But this mini robot tanker is an inferno buster that packs a powerful punch of water or foam and can go where firefighters otherwise can’t. The LAFD on Tuesday became the first fire department in the nation to acquire the Robotics Systems 3, a droid on steroids.
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said firefighters put their lives on the line when battling blazes. This year, 11 LAFD crew members were severely injured when a fireball engulfed four downtown buildings after a massive explosion that was ignited by hazardous materials.
Now, firefighters can use RS3 as a safer alternative in battling potentially explosive blazes and it allows the department to get inside a burning building when humans could not dare enter safely.
“I can afford to lose one of these wonderful machines, I cannot afford to lose a firefighter,” Terrazas said, admiring the control pad that remotely operates the firefighting drone.
On Tuesday morning, as flames engulfed a pair of industrial textile buildings in downtown L.A., firefighters did not enter alone. RS3 rode shotgun for the first time, Terrazas said.
As more than 130 firefighters battled the blaze, the droid got its first run maneuvering inside a fire so dangerous that department officials pulled crews from within. Terrazas said it used it plow front end to push its way into the burning structure. The robotic vehicle the size of a Smart car can turn on a dime and fit through a set of double doors.