Send in the Robots: A Look into the Future of Firefighting

Send in the Robots: A Look into the Future of Firefighting

Drones are just one of several new technologies that are rising to the challenge of more frequent wildfires.

Courtesy of USDA Forest Service

April in Paris stood still. Flames engulfed the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral as the world watched, horrified, in 2019. The worst looked inevitable when firefighters were forced to retreat from the out-of-control fire.

But the Paris Fire Brigade had an ace up their sleeve: Colossus, a firefighting robot. The seemingly indestructible tank-like machine ripped through the blaze with its motorized water cannon. It was able to put out flames in places that would have been deadly for firefighters.

Firefighting is entering a new era, driven by necessity. Conventional methods of managing fires have been no match for the fiercer, more expansive fires being triggered by climate change, urban sprawl, and susceptible wooded areas.

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Eve Glicksman
Eve Glicksman is a freelance writer and editor in Silver Spring, MD. She writes for multiple media outlets and associations on health care, trends, culture, psychology, lifestyle, and travel. To see her work in the Washington Post, WebMD, and U.S. News & World Report, visit eveglicksman.com.
This man spent over 70 years in an iron lung. What he was able to accomplish is amazing.

Paul Alexander spent more than 70 years confined to an iron lung after a polio infection left him paralyzed at age 6. Here, Alexander uses a mirror attached to the top of his iron lung to view his surroundings.

Allison Smith / The Guardian

It’s a sight we don’t normally see these days: A man lying prone in a big, metal tube with his head sticking out of one end. But it wasn’t so long ago that this sight was unfortunately much more common.

In the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of people each year were infected by polio—a highly contagious virus that attacks nerves in the spinal cord and brainstem. Many people survived polio, but a small percentage of people who did were left permanently paralyzed from the virus, requiring support to help them breathe. This support, known as an “iron lung,” manually pulled oxygen in and out of a person’s lungs by changing the pressure inside the machine.

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Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.

When doctors couldn’t stop her daughter’s seizures, this mom earned a PhD and found a treatment herself.

Savannah Salazar (left) and her mother, Tracy Dixon-Salazaar, who earned a PhD in neurobiology in the quest for a treatment of her daughter's seizure disorder.

LGS Foundation

Twenty-eight years ago, Tracy Dixon-Salazaar woke to the sound of her daughter, two-year-old Savannah, in the midst of a medical emergency.

“I entered [Savannah’s room] to see her tiny little body jerking about violently in her bed,” Tracy said in an interview. “I thought she was choking.” When she and her husband frantically called 911, the paramedic told them it was likely that Savannah had had a seizure—a term neither Tracy nor her husband had ever heard before.

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Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.