Heat stress can lead to various problems for firefighters working in hot environments, including unconsciousness and cardiac arrest, and the standard method of measuring core body temperature through the ear is not always effective enough. Firefighters working in extreme conditions during Australia’s 2009 Black Sunday fires struggled with heat stress in spite of hydration procedures, signaling a need for greater research into how to manage it.
In a trial, 50 firefighters from Victoria’s County Fire Authority swallowed an Equivital EQ02 LifeMonitor capsule to monitor their body’s reaction during a training exercise.
While they evacuated 20 people from a burning building, a thermometer and a transmitter within the pill sent data to a device on the chest, which then transmitted vital data to an external computer on the firefighters’ skin temperature, heart rate and respiration rate. If their core body temperature is increasing too quickly, firefighters can be removed from the fire to a rehabilitation area to cool down. After a few days, the pill is expelled from the body the good old fashioned way.
The same device was used to measure Felix Baumgartner’s vital signs during his 23-mile skydive last fall. It’s not the only data-transmitting pill Earlier this year, the FDA approved the Feedback System, a pill containing a chip that can relay information about the medication you’ve taken through your phone’s Bluetooth.
Monitoring heat stress is especially important for Australian firefighters right now. Sydney broke its heat record today with a high of 45.8 degrees Celsius — more than 114 degrees Fahrenheit — and the country has been plagued by bushfires in recent weeks, with more than 120 fires currently burning.
The Equivital capsule will continue to be tested at higher temperatures between 100 to 600 degrees Celsius (about 200 to 1100 degrees Fahrenheit).