Foundry startup supports a tech-savvy firefighting workforce

Five people in yellow and black firefighting gear stand on a hill in Marin County. The person in the center is smiling and giving a peace sign with their fingers.

As another potentially devastating wildfire season begins, California is facing a shortage of wildland firefighters. To meet this challenge, the Marin County Fire Department and UC Berkeley have partnered to form FIRE Foundry (Fire, Innovation, Recruitment and Education), a program that recruits young adults from underrepresented communities for a career in fire service and trains them on cutting-edge firefighting technologies.

The Wildland Academy gives FIRE Foundry recruits access to critical experiential learning opportunities, from performing controlled burns to field-testing innovative technologies developed by Berkeley engineers and partner organizations.

One of the technologies that will be evaluated in the field at the Wildland Academy include a distributed network of sensing devices that continuously monitor grid equipment, such as poles and power lines, for changes in their mechanical behavior to determine their operational integrity. Developed by Gridware, a company co-founded by CITRIS Foundry alumnus Tim Barat, this early detection system helps spot issues before they can lead to power grid failures and wildfires.

Photo by Thomas Azwell/Berkeley Disaster Lab