NASA engineers say they're making progress in their efforts to help the U.S. Forest Service design a better emergency fire shelter for wildland firefighters.
The NASA Convective Heating Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters or CHIEFS project started because of the deadly Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona in 2013. Nineteen firefighters were trapped in a raging, wind-driven wildfire and the emergency shelters they carried and used were unable to save them.
"When I saw that on the news, it just shook me to the core," said Mary Beth Wusk, now the acting program manager of NASA's Game Changing Development Program in the Space Technology Mission Directorate. "The huge loss of those firefighters made some of us at NASA think about how our research might help improve firefighter survivability."
NASA Langley's Mary Beth Wusk participated in personal fire tent shelter concept tests at the University of Alberta.
NASA Langley engineer Mary Beth Wusk, at right, participated in personal fire tent shelter concept tests at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, in September 2015. To the left in the photo are University of Alberta researcher Mark Ackerman, standing; and U.S. Forest Service Fire Shelter Project lead Tony Petrilli, who is leaning over the shelter.
Credits: U.S. Forest Service/Ian Grob
At the time Wusk was part of a group at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, that is developing flexible thermal protection systems for inflatable heat shields for spacecraft. NASA Langley signed an agreement with the Forest Service in early 2015 to see if some of its space-age materials could help save firefighters' lives.
"We've been able to use our decade of experience developing flexible heat shield materials, which have a lot of things in common with fire shelter materials," said Josh Fody, CHIEFS task lead. "We have approached the challenge of designing a new shelter from an engineering perspective, starting with screening small samples of 70 materials and over 290 unique combinations of those materials."
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