SMART trailer helps firefighters combat heat stress, contamination

  • Published
  • By Michelle Gigante

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – In 2020, an F-22 Raptor crashed deep within the Eglin range.  In the barren location with nothing but trees, snakes, fires, and jet plane wreckage, emergency responders endured sweltering 100-degree May heat for hours without access to restrooms or just a cool place to sit down and recharge. 

It was a crisis that demanded innovative solutions, and that’s where the Eglin Fire and Emergency Services and the 96th Test Wing Innovation office Spark Cell team stepped in. 

“We are spending millions on fire trucks, explosive ordnance robots, but we are missing the necessity of taking care of our Airmen,” said Joseph Suddarth, Eglin Fire and Emergency Services assistant fire chief. “We went to the drawing board and said this doesn’t look right.”     

The two units collaborated with a manufacturer to design a capability that would reduce heat stress, promote better work and rest cycles when performing jobs in hazardous environments. The team came up with the Specialized Mobile Advanced Rehab Technologies or SMART Trailer that provides a climate chamber, restroom, decontamination shower, a place to store contaminated gear, provide hydration and charge batteries. 

Thanks to the SMART trailer, fire department members can now depart from their operations as clean as they were when they started, despite the rough conditions they encounter during their missions. 

While the facility can’t eliminate carcinogens, the mobile decon showers, gear extractors, and dryers, can reduce risks and aid cancer prevention. 

We are spending millions on fire trucks, explosive ordnance robots, but we are missing the necessity of taking care of our Airmen. - Joseph Suddarth

Suddarth stated his team learned they have a higher risk of cancer from the contaminants they encounter on the job. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on a firefighter’s first day on the job there is a 9% increase of cancer diagnoses and a 14% higher risk of cancer-related deaths as related to the civilian population.  

The SMART trailer is the first and only Air Force wide rehab trailer.  With its extensive uses, other units could potentially benefit such as explosive ordnance disposal teams. 

“I wish we had this when I was an explosive ordnance officer,” said Steven Bailey, now the 96th TW chief innovation officer. “Whereas now we have this mobile cleaning chamber, where our people can reduce the likelihood of spreading the contamination.”