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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 12:52 GMT


Robot fire fighter unveiled

A massive fire in a chemical factory prompted Fire Spy's development

A robotic firefighter has been developed which can go into the heart of fires and remove flammable or dangerous chemicals.

Watch the Fire Spy rescue a barrel from a fire
Fire Spy's developers, the UK's West Yorkshire Fire Service and JCB, believe that the device could save human firefighters' lives.

It is based on a tough JCB vehicle but has been developed to withstand temperatures of up to 800 degrees centigrade. All the wiring has been upgraded to survive in the heat of an inferno.

Fire Spy is controlled remotely. The driver can see what is happening in the blaze through two cameras, infra-red and standard, which beam back video pictures. At the front is a powerful grabbing arm.

[ image: Fire Spy can be controlled from up to 100m away]
Fire Spy can be controlled from up to 100m away
The new machine will be in service by the end of February 1999, but already improvements are planned - including a special hose attachment to carry water right to the centre of a fire.

The technology is relatively simple but Malcolm Saunders, of the West Yorkshire Fire Service, thinks it is vital after he ran the firefighting operation at a Bradford chemicals factory in 1992.

"This was a huge fire. Very soon after I arrived, a company employee told me one of the warehouses was packed with 600 tonnes of acrylo-nitryl, a chemical so explosive that, had it gone off, it would have taken half of Bradford with it," he said.

What was needed was a safe way of moving the chemicals away from danger and now Fire Spy could do that.

Fire Spy is featured in Tomorrow's World on BBC One at 1930 GMT on Wednesday 17 February 1999.

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