LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The nation’s first firefighting robot got put to work early Tuesday on a building fire in downtown LA’s textile district.

(credit: CBS)

The Thermite RS3 robotic vehicle was scheduled to make its public debut at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. It got put to work a few hours early, however, to assist Los Angeles firefighters in battling a greater-alarm fire in the 800 block of Crocker Street.

“These large fires sometimes cause us to back out our firefighters because we’re concerned about the potential for building collapse,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said. Having the RS3 allows the department to keep its firefighters safe, and continue an aggressive interior fire attack to put out the flames faster.

The 3,500-pound wide-bodied robot resembles a small tank, and is outfitted with a firehose and a front plow blade that can push debris, including vehicles. The LAFD says it is capable of spraying 2,500 gallons per minute, with a stream that can reach high as 150 feet high, or 300 feet across. It is remotely operated with a controller that provides high-definition feedback.

“It can also be used in searching for people in large collapsed buildings, horse rescues, fuel tanker fires on the freeway, fires in refineries and many others,” Terrazas said.

The RS3 will be housed at Fire Station 3 in Downtown LA as part of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force and will be deployed to incidents on a dedicated trailer towed by a pick-up truck, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The $278,000 RS3 was purchased and donated to the department by the LAFD Foundation.

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