Merlin's wizardry keeps firefighters safe

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2013

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When a fireman only has enough oxygen for one more minute inside a smoke filled house, you need to get him out. Fast.

On Thursday, Terry had a minute on his clock. Smoke was pouring from the windows of the Rata St, Hamilton, house he was in.

In the past, if a firefighter was in such a position, it was up to him and his mates on the outside to record his air pressure when he went in and basically watch a timer.

They always erred on the side of caution and got the men out in time, but there was always human error at play. A miscalculation could have cost a man his life.

But new technology means there'll be less lives at risk when the Hamilton brigade heads out to a job.

The Merlin Board has been carted around with the Hamilton crew for the past month and any time a firefighter goes into a burning building, they must click their unique tag into the board.

From there, the board measures how much oxygen is left in their tank, how long before it runs out as well as operating as a communications panel for firefighters in trouble.

"If we need to evacuate them, we can do so from a distance and if they need help they can call us," senior firefighter Greg Milne explained.

Mr Milne was operating the Merlin Board yesterday.

There were tags sticking out, digital numbers flicking, buttons to push. But really it was simple.

The machine was there to communicate with the firefighters inside via Wifi and keep them safe.

He spotted that one of his men was low and made quick steps to make sure he knew about it.

A radio call in, and Terry knew.

That minute went by pretty quickly. He hadn't come out.

Panic set in briefly, but the board showed who was in the house.

A quick call around found Terry was just sitting out for a breather.

There'd been a couple of close calls in previous years, Waikato Area Fire Commander Roy Breeze said. Not anymore.

"As soon as they stop moving, we know. As soon as they stop using air, we know.

"There's so many safety factors built in so it's taken a lot of the human error out of it."

All brigades in main centres have so far been issued with the technology.

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- Waikato Times

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