Skyline students’ invention helps keep firefighters safe

Skyline students Albert Foo and Sharath Anand show off the prototype ExtinBreachR with Design, Technology and Environmental Planning teacher Tom Pachera and student teacher Frank Norton.
Skyline students Albert Foo and Sharath Anand show off the prototype ExtinBreachR with Design, Technology and Environmental Planning teacher Tom Pachera and student teacher Frank Norton.

By Tara Cavanaugh

It doesn’t get much more traditional than a fire department. The unofficial slogan is “300 years of tradition unimpeded by progress,” and today’s firefighters still use the same tools as the first firefighters so long ago.

But two Skyline High School students have created an invention that will likely be a welcome change for fire departments. Sharath Anand and Albert Foo, seniors in the school’s Design, Technology and Environmental Planning magnet, made the ExtinBreachR, giving it the slogan “where innovation meets tradition.”

The ExtinBreachR device combines a drill and a hose, which allows firefighters to drill through a wall and spray water inside. The water is converted to steam, which more efficiently extinguishes fire than a stream of water. 

The device could make a huge difference for smaller fire departments, who often only have two firefighters on staff at a time. According to regulations, a firefighter cannot enter a burning building unless there are a total of four firefighters on the scene (or in the case of an active rescue). This means that the first two firefighters to respond often have to wait for backup before entering a building.

Extra firefighters, whether they’re volunteers or from other area departments, can take up to ten or 15 minutes to arrive. A fire doubles every 30 seconds. “We’re hoping the ExtinBreachR allows them to get started holding down the fire while waiting for other firefighters to arrive,” Sharath said.

“We only have two guys on here a day,” said Scio Township firefighter Jordan Burns. “We cover 34 square miles and 20,000 residents… I could easily see this device being used by departments out there that have manpower problems.”

Scio Township firefighters helped Albert and Sharath as they planned out their device. Burns estimated the students spent over a total of 24 hours at the fire department.

Firefighter Brian Koch even tested out the first prototype on a faux wall that the students built. “It drilled real nice, went right through, and put out a nice spray pattern after that,” Koch said. “My thought was, in a house if there’s a bedroom fire, you could drill a hole through the door or the wall instead of opening the door and hitting all the heat.”

The ExtinBreachR would be extremely helpful for basement fires, Burns added. Basement fires are particularly dangerous, as the only entrance, a stairwell, acts like a chimney. “With this device you could go right through the floor, and have an instant sprinkler,” Burns said.

Another benefit is keeping firefighters alive. “We found out the most common firefighter deaths come two days after they’ve been in contact with the fire,” Sharath said. “That’s because they’re in a very stressful situation and they can’t stop. The stress gets to them two days later, often in the form of a heart attack. We were hoping this device would keep them out of the stressful conditions.”

Burns, who is a third-generation firefighter, was heartened by the efforts of Albert and Sharath. “They were really respectful,” he said. “You could see those kids really wanted to help out the community.”

“We’re trying to close the gap between engineers, who come up with really expensive and complicated inventions, with traditional firefighters, whose tools are really only an ax and a sledgehammer,” Albert said.

The ExtinBreachR would likely retail just around $200 or $300, which is much less than similar devices. A pyrolance, an industrial tool that uses a limited amount of water to cut through steel, costs up to $1200. A piercing nozzle, a sharp point which attaches to the end of a hose, costs at least $800 and requires a lot of manpower to be driven through a wall. Neither device is popular with firefighters.

But the ExtinBreachR could be popular with firefighters. Albert and Sharath are hoping to obtain a non-provisional patent for the device, which costs $1,000. The non-provisional patent only lasts a year, but it’s more affordable than the $6,000 full patent. Luckily, the students recently won a $1,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, which they’ll put toward getting the non-provisional patent.

Albert and Sharath have a limited time to get their patent. Rules say that a patent must be obtained within a year of a device’s first public showing. The students first presented the ExtinBreachR at the Southeast Michigan Science Fair last month, where they took the Third Place Grand Award.

Albert and Sharath thank the Awesome Foundation and Maker Works, an 11,000 sq. ft workshop for inventors located near the Ann Arbor Airport. They built the device there with the help and feedback of staff. They also thank the Scio Township Fire Department and Go Tech, a group of inventors and entrepreneurs who also provided feedback. They are also grateful to teacher Tom Pachera, student teacher Frank Norton, and Skyline for having the design and technology magnet. The 3-year class taught them to create 3-D CAD drawings, principles of physics and mechanics, and assembly.

Albert and Sharath are both attending the University of Michigan next year. Albert plans to study art, design and engineering, and Sharath plans to go into medicine. It’s a good thing that they’ll be at the same school, because it looks like their fates will be intertwined for a while by the ExtinBreachR. They’re just about finished with their second prototype, and they’re seeking feedback from other fire departments. Eventually, they aspire to get a full patent.

Plus, since they’ll still be in Ann Arbor, they can easily swing by the Scio Township firehouse. As firefighter Burns said: “They’re welcome here any time.”

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