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Firefighting Robots Protect London

07/30/2009 -A team of firefighting robots has helped the London Fire Brigade avoid injuries and public disruptions associated with acetylene-based cylinder fires. Acetylene is an extremely reactive colorless gas.

The robots built by defense contractor, QinetiQ, have been in use for a year.According to, London's fire brigade has been impressed by the robots performance due to the danger associated with acetylene cylinders.

Acetylene gas poses a particular risk to emergency services when a fire is suspected to involve cylinders of the gas.

When subjected to heat, the cylinders' contents can undergo a chemical reaction that creates even more heat. As a result, acetylene cylinders can become a time bomb even after a fire has been extinguished, putting emergency responders and the public in danger.

Standard procedure when a fire is suspected to involve acetylene is to cordon off an area of 200m around it for 24 hours.

"In the last five years we've had 471 cylinder incidents in London, 91 of which involved 128 acetylene cylinders," Gary Gunyon, group commander for hazardous materials and environmental protection with the London Fire Brigade, told BBC News.

"We've had tremendous results [with the robots] in London. They used to take more than 24 hours to resolve, now we get them resolved in under three hours.

"Three years ago we were shutting down parts of London for over 24 hours every other week. Now it doesn't even make the news."

The possibility of decreasing the amount of time cordons are up has also risen eyebrows for rail providers. When an acetylene-incident occurs near a rail line, first responders have to shut down the line, burdening both passengers and the rail provider.

"Anything to reduce the amount of time that any of our lines are closed can be nothing but good news," Peter Guy, head of operational security for Network Rail, told BBC News.

For an example of acetylene's dangerous reactiveness, watch the below clip.

♦ Photo of smoke rising from acetylene tank explosion in Dallas, Texas, fromEl Mariachi 94/Flickr