Connected T-Shirts send information about heart rate, movement or injury directly to a cloud-based IoT platform.

IoT: the livesaver.

In Germany alone, fire departments put out 200,000 home fires every year. And that doesn’t even include large-scale operations like forest fires, chemical accidents and gas explosions. To minimize the risk to these brave men and women who put their lives on the line, T-Systems developed the Connected T-Shirt. An innovation from the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary’s Connected Things Integrator.
Copy: Thomas van Zütphen
Photos: Oliver Krato
Rescuing the rescuers
T-Systems helps protect the lives of firefighters. 
"Hello, is this the fire department? Our building's on fire, it's on fire!" This dramatic cry for help, made on a bright October day, was one of an average of roughly 80 emergency calls fielded by the professional fire department in Krefeld every day. "Rescue, recover, protect" – the mission and promise of all fire departments worldwide – is the last hope for over 30,000 people seeking help in this city of 235,000 souls every year. They report a miscellany of emergencies: from a smoldering fire at a fertilizer depot by the Rhine River to unexploded ordnance found downtown to a gas main ruptured by an excavator in a residential neighborhood. From thousands of emergency medical and rescue calls following traffic accidents all the way to a forlorn kitten that scampered up into the crown of a cherry tree, but can't seem to find its way back down.
On this day, at 11:37, the agitated caller had phoned in to report “thick smoke filling the staircase” in her apartment building. There were "eight, or maybe nine, doorbells at the front door, I don't know the exact number," she said. "But I do know that the young man who lives across the hall has been in a wheelchair for weeks."
IoT the livesaver
Fear, panic, apprehension – they're understandable responses to a fire. But there was no adrenalin-fueled hysteria or sheer horror on the other end of the line. Calmly, collectedly and with the kind of efficiency that comes from years of routine, the fire department's emergency dispatchers employed headsets, monitors, keyboards and mice to coordinate the next steps. Every action was swift and skilled, but deliberately unhurried.


Within seconds, the caller’s address flashed onto the biggest screen in the room, alongside a street map showing possible routes to the scene of the fire. How? Deutsche Telekom had built a database that links addresses to phone numbers – including the landline that the old woman used to call for help from her apartment. It was a lucky thing. Cellular call tracking was far less accurate. The fire was in a cul-de-sac, right by a train line, but nonetheless accessible to fire trucks coming from two directions. It was still not clear how many people might be in danger, though. In these types of cases, dispatchers normally sent out two "engine companies" – 40 responders in all.
The call went out, "Vehicles ELW 11, HLF 11, HLF 12 and DLK!" Less than four minutes later, the first company, containing a command support vehicle, two heavy rescue vehicles and a turntable ladder truck, pulled out of the fire station. Six kilometers away, the exact same scenario played out again, announced first by the ear-shattering siren at the fire station, then by the wailing sirens of the fire engines. Here, at Krefeld's parallel fire station, the second unit rolled out.
“If this solution saves just one life, that would be a priceless return on investment.”
Head of the Connected Things Integration Solution Center at T-Systems


As Incident Commander Christoph Manten hurtled toward the scene of the fire in the command support vehicle, he glanced down at his laptop and saw how many people were registered at the burning house. The notification, initiated by the dispatch center, had come directly from the  local resident registration office. Information mattered in an emergency. That's why the Krefeld Fire Department also had floor plans and maps of more than 400 local buildings – mostly government facilities – that could be beamed onto an incident commander's laptop in an emergency. Unfortunately, the department's central computer didn't have a floor plan for the caller's apartment building. "NEF and RTW en route," barked the emergency dispatcher. The abbreviations told Manten that an ambulance and a quick response vehicle had also been sent out. Trailing Manten was a vehicle that held nine firemen, including Nico Jakels, a seven-year veteran. On this Wednesday, he had reported to work at 6:45 am.
A few minutes later, standing before his locker in the "clean section" of the fire station’s changing room, the 35-year-old traded his street clothes for a station uniform, including a rather ordinary-looking T-shirt. However, this plain black shirt, which shimmered slightly in the light, could one day save his life. On this day, the emergency call at 11:37, the alarm, roll-out and firefighting operation were all part of a test that the Krefeld Fire Department was running with T-Systems. Their goal: to determine the operational fitness of a "Connected T-Shirt", the latest innovation from the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary's Connected Things Integrator. A test under highly realistic conditions.
The caller wasn't exaggerating. Two blocks from the fire, Manten, Jakels and the rest of the unit could already see the billowing smoke. In fact, the only difference between this scenario and a real operation was the absence of bystanders, flustered neighbors and self-appointed 'photojournalists' holding their cell phones aloft and getting in the way of the firefighters. In seconds, the teams climbed down from the vehicles. Everyone on Manten's team knew what to do. Before Jakels and the rest of the "first attack team" charged into the house, they each retrieved a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from brackets on the truck. In one fluid movement, they strapped the tanks to their backs, slipped the masks over their heads and connected the two together. And in that moment, the T-shirt wrapped around Jakel’s torso went "on air".


“We’re closely watching the emergence of solutions that improve firefighter safety.”
Krefeld Fire Department
The shirt, made by T-Systems' technology partner Teiimo, was equipped with a "pod" – a telematics unit located right below the nape of the wearer’s neck. Thin, barely perceptible heat- and sweat-resistant wires ran through the fabric in erratic, meandering loops that allowed the shirt to be stretched and washed. They transmitted Jakel's heart rate, captured by two sensors on the side of his chest. At the same time, a next-generation accelerometer in the pod detected the fireman's every movement. To do this, a calculation process combined the rotation and translation of the GPS-enabled pod over six different axes. The advanced mathematics allowed the device to track the wearer's location and movements. A memory chip recorded the raw data in order to instantly recognize any type of adverse event. A fall, for example, could be instantly reported wirelessly to an IoT platform in the cloud. The platform generally communicated with Incident Commander Manten's tablet over the internet, but also managed the pods and pushed out regular updates to them.
"The Connected T-Shirt is the product of a program that originally focused on digitizing the construction industry, but has since extended into other areas such as firefighting. Its main goal is to manage operations data, prevent theft and inventory materials and machines at large plants and construction sites," explained Thomas Barth, Program Manager for the Connected Things Integrator. That includes € 1,000 angle grinders to € 40,000 concrete scanners all the way to caterpillar cranes worth hundreds of thousands of euros. Owners, rental companies and insurance carriers all want to know who uses the equipment, where they use it, and how.
"Our solution is now being used for broader applications, such as improving worker safety in potentially dangerous situations. For example, mechanics working on oil platforms or linemen servicing high-voltage lines." But its uses go further. Today, the corporate fire brigade of a large industrial company in southern Germany and T-Systems are trialing the Connected T-Shirt over a several-month period.


Once again, Incident Commander Manten wished that the initial fire report showed all available hydrants near the scene of the fire. It was a problem for Krefeld, like for many fire departments throughout Germany. The hoses that Jakels and his team were directing at the fire were being fed by 2,000 liter tanks on board the two heavy rescue vehicles. That might sound like a lot, but each of the three hoses was pumping out 150 liters of water a minute. Soon, the on-board tanks would be sucked dry.
Floor by floor, apartment by apartment, the firefighters worked their way through the four-story building. All the neighbors had been accounted for, except for the wheel-chair-bound young man that the caller had mentioned. The fire had evidently broken out in his apartment, which Jakels was now carefully checking, one room at a time. The smoke was so thick he could barely see his hand in front of his face. While the rest of the team fought the obvious source of the fire in the adjoining living room, Jakels edged into the kitchen. But the flames were persistent. When the window panes shattered, they extended an open invitation to the wind and oxygen that kept the fire alive.
Fires that defied extinguishment were loud. That much Jakels knew after responding to more than 200 emergency fire calls over the years. Now, though, he felt the heat radiate against his back, surrounded by a solid wall of smoke with a cacophony of loud commandos echoing around him. Questions, status reports, new questions, new instructions. But what the untrained observer would have perceived as a seething mass of infernal chaos was perfectly intelligible to every one of the firemen. Was the water supply still uninterrupted? – Where was the missing person? – And how much longer would the SCBA canisters still have air? – The men had to "get air" at least every 20 minutes. In other words: leave the building and swap out breathing apparatuses. Jakels and his team still had 120 seconds left. Suddenly, Incident Commander Manten realized that one of his men might not find his way down the smoke-filled staircase alone. And that had nothing to do with all the equipment, axes, hammers, fire extinguishers, prybars, torn-out doors, hoses, couplings, reducers, fittings and clamps lying on the stairs.
“Our goal is a high-precision solution that incorporates additional information channels.”
Scrum development team


An incoming text message had sent Manten scurrying for his laptop. The message sender: the IoT platform in the cloud. A quick glance at the display confirmed the alarm: Jakel's Connected T-shirt had stopped reporting any movement. The Motionactivity function – which measures the current speed of the T-shirt, or rather, the pod integrated near the nape of the wearer’s neck – stood at "Zero". Manten scanned the screen for Jakel's body temperature, pulse and GPS coordinates. No question: if there hadn’t been a missing person in the building before, there was one now. And time was running out. Quite literally: besides the Connected T-Shirt, Jakel's air bottle was also constantly connected to his computer. And it had less than two minutes of air left.
What truly electrified the incident commander, though, was the "Body Orientation" function. An orientation angle – as the experts called it – of 88° to 110° would be normal for someone walking upright. If a fireman edged forward while bent over, the angle would drop to around 60°. At 45°, though, an alarm would be sounded by a smart rule defined in the cloud. And Jakel’s body orientation had suddenly plummeted to 3°. Much lower than if he were just crawling through the house. Even worse, Jakel's position was no longer changing at all.


Instead of ordering Jakel's team back toward the fire with fresh air, Manten sent another search and rescue team into the house. The men knew from the initial team where to look for Jakels. And that was a good thing on this late October day.
With Connected T-Shirts, team members can marshal an immediate response if needed.
Dense smoke can make it hard to tell that a fellow firefighter is in trouble. With Connected T-Shirts, team members can marshal an immediate response if needed.
"Our next development goal is a high-precision solution that incorporates additional information channels for our T-shirts," said Christian Kapitza, Senior Consultant and Product Owner in T-Systems' scrum development team. That might include 3D visualizations of architecture and topography or air pressure sensors that supply data that the device's tiny computer can use for sensor fusion purposes. "Algorithms allow us to continue calculating the shirt's position even without a GPS signal. Ultimately, we want to be able to pinpoint its position as accurately as possible in or outside buildings." In addition, new wireless technologies and cellular standards like NarrowBand IoT and 5G make communications between incident commanders and team members even more robust.
Between Manten's instructions and the first team’s recollections, it didn't take long for the search and rescue team to find Jakels: surrounded by dense smoke, collapsed on top of a wheelchair that its temporary user evidently no longer needed. In the last remaining seconds, the four men carried their injured comrade down the staircase, pulled off the SCBA mask and watched, relieved, as he filled his lungs with fresh air.
"We're closely watching the emergence of solutions that improve firefighter safety and help us rescue team members in trouble – which can happen during any call," said Christoph Manten, Incident Commander at the Krefeld Fire Department. "I guarantee that professional, corporate and volunteer fire departments everywhere – not just in Krefeld – will gratefully accept any opportunity to use, test, compare and evaluate the types of innovations that we've seen today." That sentiment was echoed by Markus Zscheile, Head of the Connected Things Integration Solution Center at T-Systems: "You always want to know whether your research and development work delivered a good ROI (return on investment). But if our solution saves just one firefighter's life in Germany, where fire departments respond to 200,000 home fires every year, that would be a priceless return on investment."

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