Firefighting Beacon

Name: Individual Bachelor Project: Firefighting Beacon
Date: 7-2007
Duration: 18 weeks
Type: Individual
Stage Education: Graduation Project Bachelor Industrial Design

In short:
Series of beacons capable of showing a preconfigured danger symbol in addition to a auditory warning system when the line of beacons is crossed. This system can be used to border dangerous areas within the working area of firefighters. It is specifically aimed at firefighters.

The different symbols (prototype).


Firefighting is a dangerous job. Firefighters are constantly surrounded by hazardous and rapidly changing situations. Communication between the firefighters is essential in order to provide a working situation that is as safe as possible. Through interviews and the conclusion of the report about the disaster at the Koningkerk in Haarlem (3 firefighters died) I discovered that there seems to be a difficulty in the communication of dangerous areas within the working area of firefighters. Examples of these dangerous areas can be exploding gas cylinders, collapsing parts of buildings and leaking hazardous liquids or gasses. When firefighters are not aware of or ignore the marked area and move into that area it can lead to dangerous situations which can lead to injury and even death. This problem occurs in situations where there is a rapidly changing situation and a lot of firefighters from multiple divisions are present (e.g. a large fire). This project was about designing a tool that enables firefighters to mark a dangerous area and once deployed will prevent other firefighters from moving into that area in any situation.

Design Proposition

The design proposition consists out of an array of beacons that have to be placed next to each other so that they will form a line; A border between safe and dangerous. These beacons will have to be used when nobody is allowed to move in a specific area. There are two principles that communicate with the firefighter: Auditory and visual.
The visual feedback is specifically used to inform the firefighter about the danger. I believe that when the firefighter knows about the danger it will acknowledge the danger and the restriction faster. The beacons are capable of displaying 5 symbols/animations. Explosion, collapse from the side, collapse from the top/bottom, contamination and no entrance. The beacons will consecutively display the no entrance and one of the other symbols/animations. This in order to clear out that the beacons are there to stop firefighters instead of only inform.

If a firefighter crosses the line between 2 beacons an auditory signal will be emitted. The auditory feedback is limited to trespassing behavior. The device will not make a sound when everything is idle. A moderate signal will be given when somebody trespasses the border and as the firefighter’s distance to the beacons gets larger the sound will become more intrusive. The sound will make sure that the firefighter does not move into the dangerous area without noticing it. The auditory signal has got another advantage. It can alarm other firefighters in the neighborhood that somebody crossed the border. The colleague then can get the firefighter out of the area or assist him when he moved into the dangerous area because of e.g. an injured colleague. The auditory signal should be seen as a last resort. The visual signal should be sufficient to update the firefighter on the danger and the firefighter should know that it’s too dangerous to move into such area.

More in-depth information on the problem:

The different types of danger:
note: the 3d situational images have been made with the virtual trainingssimulator of Artesis.


On the screenshot you can see a situation where the firefighters that are already on site know that there is a dangerous gas cyclinder in the little shed (they hide behind the wall). The approaching firefighters from the other side may not have been notified of this danger and may go into the dangerous area.

On the map you can see a large building on fire. Also on the map are two gas cyclinders. One on
the outside of the building and one on the inside of the building. Usually the firefighter in charge
gets information about hazardous substances or explosive risks around a building. These areas then can be defined as dangerous.


On the overview you can see a situation where the car has been burning for a while under a porch. Because of the fire the wall may fail. Firefighters coming from the other side of the building may not know how long the car has been burning there and therefore can’t tell if the wall is instable or not. Another risky factor is that when only a small part of the wall collapses it can take the entire wall along with it.

Displayed here are 3 situations where parts of the buildings may collapse due to the consequences of the fire. Usually these dangers can be detected fairly easy. Because firefighters keep track of the time a building is on fire it is possible to derive the status of the building. Before a building collapses it’s also possible to hear cracking sounds and visual hints. However a lot of experience is required.

Collapse from the side (one row of leds is missing)

Collapse from the top


Here you can see a situation were a chemical transporter van leaks dangerous fluids. In most cases these issues are dealt with in a controlled fashion making the risk of miscommunication smaller. If however this is part of a much bigger incident it’s important that everybody knows that’s something going on there. The two firefighters near the van don’t wear their suits just for fun.

Displayed here is a partially collapsed building. On the roof of this building asbestos was implemented. asbestos is harmless as long as it’s steady. It gets extremely dangerous when the asbestos is broken. It becomes even more dangerous when the heat of the fire moves up the air filled with asbestos flakes. This situation also is compatible with other kinds of contamination of other dangerous substances.

Closed Entrace:

Here you can see a situation were an entire building is on fire on different places and multiple units are at the site. In these cases it can get very dangerous to go inside the building. One side of the building may have been burning for quite a while and if that part collapses other parts of the building may collapse along with it. Also in case of a xtc-lab it’s wise to prohibit anybody from entering the building anymore.

Displayed here is a large building on fire. Due to the fire a part of the building is about to collapse. It has become very dangerous to go into the building. Therefore the entrance of the building is closed.

Some additional visuals:

A series of virtual and quick and dirty prototypes:

Design Featurelist:
1. Legs to let water flow underneath it so that it will not flow along with the water.
2. One speaker on the front and one on the back to ensure signal strength when in front/behind the beacon. The speakers are placed at the top of the device so that it will not get under water.
3. Visual feedback on the auditory signal. To ensure that everybody knows that the auditory signal is coming from the beacons a visual sign is added to the beacon. It will start to respond in the same frequency as the auditory signal.
4. Handle. On top of the beacon is a handle that will stick out of the box so that it’s easy and fast to deploy.
5. Spring power legs. When the legs are folded up inside the box it’s entirely flat. Once the beacon is pulled out the legs will flip out because of the spring mechanism inside the body of beacon. When the beacon has to be cleared the firefighter can push the front legs of the device in the whole and push so that the legs will be folded up automatically.
6. Recharge unit. On the sides of the beacons 2 metal plates are placed so that the beacons can recharge when they are in box inside the fire truck.
7. Symbol plane. This will provide the visual signal. It’s tilted to compensate for the tilted standing of the beacon.
8. Radar sensor. This sensor is place at the back so that it can detect if a person is approaching or gaining distance to the beacon and according to that give different auditory feedback.
9. Light trap sensor. This sensor will “see” if the direct line of sight between the beacons is interrupted and therefore detect if somebody trespassed the border of beacons.
10. Reflective material

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