How could technologies help firefighters if familiar interfaces were not available? After a detailed study of firefighters’ everyday life, the team focused on identifying patterns that allowed firefighters to survive in extreme conditions. Key aspects in firefighters’ work were:
- The clear hierarchy that allows to know precisely the responsibilities and capabilities of each person, and also helps to build trust;
- The constant use of new information to keep a building plan in mind that helps to navigate better and remember routes;
- Independent work of small teams of 2-3 people that helps to make decisions faster and coordinate actions more efficiently.
Based on the results of a deep immersion in the life of a fire brigade, the experts made the following “point of view”:
“Firefighters need simple technological solutions that do not violate the existing structure, because in extreme working conditions it is necessary to support what works well and not to overload firefighters with unnecessary devices.”
At the next stage of brainstorming the designers teamed up with firefighters to develop a large number of ideas. Firefighters along with scientists and engineers offered their ideas on how technology could help them in extreme conditions without overriding existing processes. The result of the stage was a variety of ideas: from determining geolocation of a firefighter using a GPS module to using disposable sensors that firefighters leave behind, like those bread crumbs from a fairy tale, to help them return.
As a result for the next step the design team chose the idea of wooden wages with a changing LED: each one of the four colors signaled the room check status, for example, green meant “the room is checked” or red – “need to return”. Prototypes were created with improvised materials and firefighters were able to test their suggestions with simple painted bars for a couple of euros. Of course, further development of the approved prototype involved more significant costs. But at this stage the experts were able to evaluate the success of the idea quickly and cheaply and make necessary changes to the prototype.