LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – For the first time in the United States, a robotic firefighting vehicle was used Tuesday to battle a major emergency fire in downtown Los Angeles, officials said.
The fire broke out in a textile business and spread to an adjacent building, and more than 130 firefighters extinguished the flames and prevented them from spreading further.
The greater-alarm fire broke out before 4:45 a.m. in a one-story building in the 800 block of South Crocker Street.
Crews arrived on scene to find that the building contained “stacks of rolled textiles,” the L.A. Fire Department reports. The textiles served as fuel to help spread the flames, prompting the fire department to declare it a greater-alarm fire.
“What we have inside is an abundance of rolled goods, fabrics, textiles that are smoldering, piled very high,” LAFD Capt. Erik Scott said.
The blaze was initially brought under control within about 40 minutes. However, there was a flare-up on the northwest side of the building that forced LAFD to call in more crews.
“That in fact did take off, and was very stubborn,” Scott said. “We called for waves of additional firefighters to help.”
The fire then jumped to a second building to the east, where it tore through the roof, forcing firefighters to take a defensive position.
A “robotic firefighting vehicle” was used during the fire, according to Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Known as RS3, the vehicle is a remote-controlled, track-mounted robot made by Textron, and it was used in this fire to clear debris inside the structure “to facilitate a more effective attack on the fire while eliminating the need to put any firefighters at risk,” Stewart said.
The RS3 was purchased and donated to the department by the LAFD Foundation, making it the first use of a robotic firefighting vehicle in the country, Stewart said.
It took 130 firefighters about four hours to finally knock down the blaze. The owners and employees of the roughly dozen or so businesses inside the two downtown buildings waited to learn whether anything inside can be salvaged.
There are many homeless encampments nearby, but firefighters do not believe any of their residents were hurt.
One firefighter was taken to a hospital with a heat-related illness, the fire department said. There were no other injuries.