Firestarter Hackathon Gets the Fire Brigade Ready for the Future

Firefighting in 2019

The job of a firefighter is risky and dangerous, but also challenging. Helping people in need and saving lives is a noble task. Teamwork and respect for technical rules are essential in firefighting. Technological developments in residential and commercial environments (such as the Internet of Things, augmented reality, advances in the use of sensors in cars, etc.) require firefighters to constantly update their skills. At the same time, technological innovation makes a more efficient and proactive approach to firefighting possible.

How to make firefighting future proof?

In collaboration with the Flanders Fire Services Network and the VIAS Institute, EY organised a Firestarter Hackathon in mid-October inspire and inform fire services about what their jobs will look like in the future. The organisers wanted this event to play a key role in futureproofing the fire brigades, and eventually, save more lives, by facilitating the creation of innovative applications.

Why organise Firestarter Hackathon?

In November 2018, EY attended the safety conference ‘Niveau S’ in Brussels. This conference – organised by the Belgian Federal Ministry Internal Affairs and the VIAS Institute – included an innovation fair, where EY, the VIAS Institute and the national fire services spoke, for the first time, about launching an innovation project together.

In addition, the Firestarter Hackathon fits in with the ambitions of the ‘Future Fire Services Vision – 2030’ programme of Brandweernetwerk Vlaanderen. The aim of this programme is to prepare all fire services for the future.

The Factory, which has strong focus on open innovation and connecting innovative entrepreneurs, offered to organise the Firestarter Hackathon at the EY wavespace™ in Antwerp. This is EY’s innovation hub where companies find support and guidance in innovation projects. The site has been specially designed to stimulate creativity and cooperation between different parties. In other words, the perfect location for this hackathon.

Challenges in three areas

The Firestarter Hackathon was organised around three challenges:

  • Smart Homes and Buildings: How can process optimisation and smart technology in buildings (such as cameras, sensors, smart meters,…) help the fire services with fire prevention and detection?
  • Smart Mobility: Which new challenges in the field of mobility (such as increasing traffic and the emergence of electric cars) impact firefighting?
  • Smart Fire Service: How can smart education and emerging technologies (VR, AR, drones, wearables,…) be deployed in the field so that the fire services can carry out their work even more efficiently?

The tasks given to the teams were spread equally over these three challenges to ensure a balance in the range of solutions.

Ready, set, go!

More than 100 motivated hackers (across 22 teams) signed up for the Firestarter Hackathon.

Coaches, firefighters and the hackers were invited by EY to a preparatory session on October 4th. During this matchmaking event, everyone was told about the rules of the game and the teams and coaches were introduced to one another.

The Firestarter Hackathon started in the EY wavespace™ in Antwerp on October 17th and 18th. Each team was asked to develop an innovative solution to a concrete problem which fire services could be confronted with now or in the future.

Together with the coaches from EY, The Factory, the VIAS Institute and Brandweernetwerk Vlaanderen, all participants worked hard on their innovative solution. Not only did they have to keep an eye on practical applicability and efficiency, but also on financial feasibility. Not an easy task…

The coaches played an essential role here: VIAS was able to assist the teams with its knowledge about mobility and safety, while the coaches from The Factory and EY taught the hackers how to set up a scalable business model and pitch their idea to the jury. Finally, the teams also received indispensable help from the firefighters themselves, who provided important insights into the daily work of the fire services.

And the winners are…

The jury selected one winner per challenge.

Smart Buildings

In the Smart Homes and Buildings category, a group of applied informatics students from the Thomas More College of Applied Sciences came up with an app (‘Fireplan’) which people can use to make a 3D sketch or floor plan of their own home. This allows the fire services to provide assistance more quickly and efficiently. The app also opens up possibilities for insurers, as many potential fire hazards can be avoided.

Smart Mobility

In the Smart Mobility category, the trophy went to a team made up of the City of Antwerp and Siemens. These hackers developed software that literally gives fire services a green light at junctions when they rush to a fire scene. This software not only makes traffic safer for fire services and the public, but also allows of faster interventions.

Smart Fire Services

The first prize in the Smart Fire Service category went to the software developer Aptus, that came up with a wearable which gives firefighters an immediate overview of location, body temperatures, amount of oxygen etc. in a burning building. This allows the men to work more proactively and efficiently.

The organisers of the Firestarter Hackathon are committed to further supporting and sponsoring these winning projects, including field testing and fine-tuning.

The highlight of the congress and the international conference

The three winning teams had the opportunity to put their projects in the spotlight during a plenary session at the annual fire services congress ‘Back2theFuture’ that took place on October 18th and 19th in Ranst. More than 500 experts and policymakers were introduced to these innovative ideas.

On November 19th and 20th, the team of students from the Thomas More College of Applied Sciences will also be giving a presentation on their ‘Fireplan’ during the International Safety Education Seminar (ISES) conference, organised in Antwerp.

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