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N.E.R.F.S: The solution to combating Wildfires

Most Oregonians have felt the effects of wildfires happening in our very own community, especially over recent years. Oregon has been negatively impacted by the vast number of wildfires taking place each year. In 2017, the Eagle Creek fire burned over 48,000 acres of forest and destroyed miles of hiking trails and state landmarks in the Columbia river Gorge. The wildfire season of 2017 was one of the worst in the history of the Pacific Northwest with over

1,000 wildfires recorded in Oregon. Technology has been used to solve a number of environmental issues in the world around us. However, there hasn’t been much technology created specifically to help combat wildfires quickly enough. N.E.R.F.S. is on a mission to change that.

N.E.R.F.S. stands for the National Early Response Fire Fighting System and it was created by a team of student innovators, engineers and entrepreneurs from Oregon Institute of Technology, and they are working hard to carve out a place as innovators serving their communities. According to N.E.R.F.S, “Our fastest current response takes 20 minutes to get on site. That's 20 minutes for a fire to grow and spread and at the end of that 20 minutes there’s just a helicopter on site to get eyes on for a diagnosis...” The problem they discovered is that the current systems focus on the quantity of response and not the actual response time. N. E.R. F. S. believe they have a solution. The team has changed the game by designing an exceptional prototype combining not only hardware, but also software powered elements to create an automatic firing system that can combat wildfires in just minutes.

The initial prototype used a NERF toy with a GPS sensor to activate a plunger that pushes out fire retardant through the nozzles. The team has also focused on developing software to support the remote triggering of the device. They want to continue testing the prototype using some already deployed wildfire alert systems.

N.E.R.F.S. met while studying at the Oregon Institute of Technology, combing their areas of study to balance out their strengths. Dylon Yoshinaga, a healthcare management and administration student, and Graeme Wiltrout, a business management student, oversee administration of the team. Mechanical engineering students Fletcher Stults, Marcus Delamarter, Toby Ruston, and Sydney Beers work on the hardware sub-team. The software sub-team consists of software engineering students, Logan Rivera, Jemisha Vargas, and Gabriel Bafia, and embedded systems engineering student, Brandon Moehlmann.

It all started with a conversation Graeme had at his family’s dinner table where they discussed wildfires, why they are happening and what’s being done to stop them. From there, Graeme went to the drawing board and formulated all their ideas. Then he connected with lots of firefighters, fire chiefs, smokejumpers, hot shots, as well as dispatchers.

The team’s overall goal is to regain control over our forests. “Some fire is good. Some fire is necessary, but the fact of the matter is that our forests have gone insufficiently managed long enough that those natural fires that are good for the environment just aren’t happening anymore.” says Graeme Wiltrout. They also aim to make a positive impact economically. According to their research, there is a 350 billion economic burden created by wildfires each year and their hope is to lift that burden as well as create jobs. N.E.R.F.S is working to protect our environment by creating real change.

To hear more about N.E.R.F.S check out their full Video Interview

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