on September 8th, 2023

Engineers are changing how firefighters save others while also keeping themselves safe. In the wake of a devastating fire that claimed scores of lives in South Africa, we look at the engineering tech that is assisting firefighters to improve the critical work they do while better protecting them.

In the early hours of Thursday, August 31, at 01:30 a.m., a devastating fire tore through an apartment building in Johannesburg, South Africa. At the time of publishing this article, The Engineering Institute of Technology learned that approximately 76 women, children, and men had perished, while over 50 others sustained injuries. This catastrophic event has sent shockwaves through the community, leaving questions about the response efforts and the potential factors contributing to the tragedy.

As reported by medi24.com, Johannesburg Emergency Management Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi noted that the death toll might rise further due to an informal settlement within the building, possibly leading to individuals becoming trapped while attempting to escape.

An informal settlement within the apartment building exacerbated the heart-wrenching incident. As Mulaudzi explained, “Every floor has an informal settlement, and those trying to evacuate were trapped because of the structures between the floors.” This unique circumstance created immense challenges for those fleeing the flames, adding to the tragic loss of life. The existence of these makeshift dwellings underscored the difficulties faced by the occupants in their desperate bid for survival.

In the aftermath of what is now considered the worst fire in South Africa, concerns have emerged regarding the efficiency and preparedness of the country’s fire departments. Questions linger about the timeliness of their response and whether their firefighting capabilities align with the latest technological advancements employed by international counterparts. The need to assess and enhance firefighting practices has become even more critical to prevent such devastating incidents in the future.

Firefighters, often unsung heroes, brave perilous situations to safeguard communities. Access to cutting-edge technology is paramount to empower them in their life-saving endeavors. Engineers, driven by the mission to protect the public, continuously innovate to address the evolving challenges faced by society.

These five engineering advancements contribute to ensuring safety, from constructing vital infrastructure to aiding disaster management:

Harnessing Sound to Quell Flames

In the realm of firefighting technology, innovation has taken a sonic route. Sonic fire extinguishers, also referred to as wave extinguishers, utilize sound waves to suppress fires.

By emitting specific acoustic frequencies, these extinguishers disrupt the combustion process, extinguishing flames without using traditional agents.

Notably, these devices emit only sound, making them safe for use around humans and sensitive equipment, a crucial advantage in scenarios where conventional methods may pose risks.

Thermal-Resistant Firefighter Helmets

Modern firefighter helmets offer more than physical protection; they now have visors that withstand intense heat and flying embers.

Collaborative efforts between Guardian, a helmet manufacturer based in Milwaukee, and Scott Safety, a respiratory protection equipment company, led to the development of these advanced helmets.

Known as the Visor Accessory Kit (VAK), these additions are constructed from lightweight aluminum and can withstand temperatures up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. With compatibility across various Guardian helmet models, these visors are poised to revolutionize firefighter safety.

Eyes in the Sky During Disasters

Drones have emerged as indispensable tools in disaster relief efforts.

During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which wrought widespread destruction, drones played a pivotal role in identifying and locating stranded individuals amidst the rising floodwaters.

The ability to capture imagery and pinpoint locations streamlined rescue operations, ensuring more efficient and effective responses to critical situations.

Robots in Rescue Missions

Recent events, such as the harrowing rescue of twelve boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded Thai cave, spotlight the significance of technology in life-saving missions.

Thai Navy SEALs navigated the challenging terrain with sonar robots, typically used for surveying purposes.

These robots facilitated the navigation of dark and intricate cave passages, exemplifying how technology augments human capabilities during rescue operations.

A Future of Collaborative Innovation

The convergence of technology and firefighting is poised to reshape the profession, offering heightened efficiency, safety, and innovation.

These advancements protect the courageous men and women who dedicate themselves to saving lives and amplify rescue mission success rates.


More than 70 people dead after fire breaks out at ‘informal settlement’ inside Joburg building 

3 Engineering Technological Advances that Save Lives 

New Technologies That Are Helping Firefighters Save Lives 

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