Former Journalist Joins Prometeo in Barcelona’s Burning Forest

A photo essay from Kevin Allen’s time with 2019 Call for Code winner, Prometeo

Kevin J. Allen
Call for Code Digest
4 min readJul 16, 2020

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When I joined IBM in 2013, I expected that the job would present this former journalist with some unique stories to tell. While chasing firefighters into a burning forest in rural Spain never crossed my mind as a possibility, it served as a welcome distraction from my jet lag.

My flight landed in Barcelona around 10 a.m. on Monday, February 10, and I immediately hustled through customs, grabbed my 60-lb. suitcase, brimming with video, audio and photography equipment and rented a car. I headed south to Olivella, a tiny town in Catalan wine country. I navigated some winding backroads to reach the Prometeo base camp just as the team was beginning the hike up the side of a heavily forested hill, two cameras and a soon-to-be-dinged-up gimbal in tow thanks to a slip on an unsteady ridge.

It was there that the Prometeo team linked up with a group of IBMers and volunteer firefighters (nicknamed the Bombers) to test their Call for Code-winning solution in a controlled burn. After two days of following these dedicated firefighters through the burning forests, I left with the smoke-drenched clothes on my back and a collection of photos that I hope demonstrate the profound impact this potentially life-saving device can have:

Ten firefighters were outfitted with the Prometeo monitoring device, which tracks environmental toxins that the firefighters are inhaling. If an individual firefighter’s exposure to these toxins reaches a certain threshold, the fire chief can pull him or her out of action so they can recover. With wildfire seasons extending and increasing in severity around the world, teams like the Bombers have the potential to become taxed. Over time, the device and data collection can help reduce the long-term effects of smoke inhalation.

Prometeo team member Josep Ràfols outfits one of the Bombers with the environmental monitoring device. The device is placed on the left side of the jacket, positioned to avoid interfering with the firefighters’ radio.

The team monitored wind conditions throughout the day, starting the controlled burn atop a hill overlooking a winery. Fires were started in the underbrush, and though the flames themselves were kept fairly low, and water hoses were hiked up to the top of the hill to keep the fire under control.

As the fire consumed the top of the hill, the air became thick with smoke, reducing visibility and increasing the environmental toxins surrounding the Bombers.

The burn moved into a clearing, causing flames to shoot up. Intense heat could be felt from more than 50 yards away.

Commanders were in constant communication with the Prometeo team, which consists of technologists, healthcare professionals and firefighters. Each firefighter that was outfitted with a Prometeo device was represented on a dashboard with green, yellow and red designations that corresponded to the toxin levels that the devices were picking up from the environment. If a firefighter was showing their toxin exposure in the red, commanders were instructed to remove them from the burn.

At base camp, Bomber team leads monitored the firefighters’ health remotely, and worked with them upon their return to listen to feedback about their experience wearing the device and any symptoms they experienced.

Prometeo is continuing to iterate on and improve its solution. The team is working with local emergency response agencies, and hopes to expand this technology globally to aid firefighter teams — especially those battling wildfire(s).

For more on the February deployment, check out the video below:

The author, Kevin Allen avoiding slowly approaching flames.

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Kevin J. Allen
Call for Code Digest

Dad, husband, improviser, writer, videographer, editor, content creator.