Vacant Building Fires and Security Robots

“An early morning fire in a vacant North Tulsa store is a reminder cold weather is approaching. Around 4:30 Thursday morning fire crews responded to a small fire inside a vacant Piggly Wiggly store near Admiral and Harvard. On the scene crews say they had trouble getting inside the boarded up building, but once inside they found thick, black smoke and a homeless man. Firefighters interviewed him about his involvement and determined he started the fire to keep warm. They say he got into the building from a hole in the roof. He was also found with stolen copper, and tried to run away from police officers.”(1)

Chicago warehouse fire

Fire officials around the country are gearing up for the expected increase in vacant building fires. Every year as the colder weather creeps south, the number of fires in vacant building increases. frequently caused by people breaking into the buildings for shelter, and starting fires for warmth – fires that all too often get out of control and cause significant property damage, injuries, and deaths.

This is so common, that many insurance companies automatically reduce the property damage coverage by as much as 15% if a building is considered vacant. According to a report by the National Fire Protection Association(2), in 2003-2006, U.S. Fire departments responded to an estimated average of 31,000 structure fires in vacant buildings per year. These fires resulted in $642 million in direct property damage per year(3) And more significantly, fires in vacant buildings are a leading cause of firefighter injuries.

In part, this is due to the fact that since the building is vacant, there is no-one around to detect the fire when it is still small and easier to control.  In many vacant building fire reports there are the words “When the fire department arrived, the building was totally involved.”

In most cities, you can find security officers on duty in vacant buildings pulling ‘Fire Watch” shifts. Possibly the most boring and at the same time dangerous, shift imaginable.  On patrol in a large, boarded up building checking for break-ins and watching for fire.  Talk about a task that is dirty, dull, and dangerous – it is perfect for a security robot.

Mobile robot patrolling garage

The Vigilus Mobile Camera Platform Robot on patrol in a warehouse in Denver, CO. The security robot is manufactured by Vigilant Robots.

To increase the ability of our security robots to address this need, we have added our FireWatcher™ option package to the robots.  This module adds dual channel smoke/gas detectors to our award winning robots, and integrates with the on-board thermal sensors. Cutting edge artificial intelligence software enables the robot to quickly and accurately assess the likelihood of a fire during its normal patrols.  The key to saving the building is often getting there when the fire is still small, and by delivering the smoke/fire sensors to the fire, rather than waiting for the fire to grow large enough to be noticed by passers-by on the street.

Given the state of repair of vacant buildings, and late detection of fires, vacant building fires are a major cause of injuries for the fire fighters:

  • Only 6% of all reported structure fires were at vacant buildings, but they accounted for 13% of the firefighter injuries incurred at structure fires.
  • From 1998 to 2007, 15 firefighters were fatally injured at vacant building fires(3).

With a security robot on duty, break-ins can be detected sooner, the fires can be spotted earlier, the fire departments can arrive sooner, and they can have much better information about the fire before they go in, since the robot can relay video of the fire – without putting people at risk.

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Where is your robot?® Ours are on duty protecting lives and property, proudly made by Vigilant Robots, in the USA


(1) From Fox23.com October25, 2013  Tulsa, OK, USA http://www.fox23.com/news/local/story/Fires-in-vacant-buildings-other-hazards-will/RGuYQhCvAES_M8tQHWJ0jg.cspx

(2)http://www.zurichna.com/internet/zna/SiteCollectionDocuments/en/media/whitepapers/RECold2AvacantpropertyWhitepaper.pdf

(3) Vacant Building Fires, National Fire Protection Association, April 2009

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  1. #1 by gammatworobotics on October 30, 2013 - 8:34 am

    Associated Press 29Oct2013 : “Allentown Fire Department Assistant Chief Lee Laubach told The Express-Times (http://bit.ly/18zsNfL) on Tuesday that investigators determined an accelerant was used to set the fire Thursday night.

    Laubach said the fire caused about $25,000 damage to the 393,000-square-foot building, which is now vacant but previously served as the Lehigh Valley’s first Mack Trucks plant.”
    http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/3bb0b456aa6a4ea9a8d3e76f4f70c724/PA–Allentown-Arson

  1. Lose $75,000 in 18 minutes | whereismyrobot

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