The rise of robotic firefighters

June 21, 2024

Ron Lemons, Sales Manager at Howe & Howe Inc., discusses the impact of the Thermite robotic firefighter on enhancing safety and operational efficiency

Having joined Howe & Howe Inc. in 2012 after serving in the Marine Corps and working in government acquisitions, Ron Lemons, Sales Manager, has significantly contributed to the company’s innovation.

Lemon has led the sales division for commercial products at Howe & Howe since 2020, overseeing the market introduction and expansion of Howe & Howe’s technologies, including Termite: the firefighting robot.

The inception of the Thermite robotic firefighter is driven by the pressing need to enhance the capabilities and safety of fire departments and first responders.

The primary goal of the Thermite robot is to reduce the exposure of firefighters to these dangers.

By deploying the robot in hazardous environments, it can perform tasks that would otherwise put human lives at risk.

“We feel a Thermite robot can safely and easily fill that gap, whether it’s manpower, resources, or both,” Lemons notes.

It is designed to support and enhance the efforts of firefighters, providing them with a reliable tool that can operate in dangerous conditions, ensuring their safety and improving operational efficiency.


The Thermite robotic firefighter was catalyzed by a global catastrophe: the Fukushima Disaster, an event that posed critical questions regarding the safety and efficacy of disaster response.

The pressing questions from the disaster, says Lemon, were clear: “How can we get water into the interior of the facility that is so heavily contaminated with radiation?” and “How can we aid first responders?”

Recognizing the potential of their existing technology, the team at Howe & Howe leveraged their expertise: “We knew we had a remotely operated system that was proven durable and dependable through countless hours of testing,” he explains.

The creative minds at Howe & Howe collaborated to enhance the system’s capabilities, leading to the creation of modular payload options tailored for both fire and police operations.

This adaptability allowed the Thermite robot to address a variety of scenarios, providing essential support in hazardous environments.

Key capabilities

The Thermite robotic firefighters deliver versatility, power, and safety.

Their modular payload system allows customization for specific firefighting needs.

“We offer a variety of options including a plow, winch, positive pressure ventilator, on-board foam tank, CAFS, Thermal and Vis monitor mounted camera for the ability to look around the scene using the movement of the monitor,” says Lemons.

This adaptability enhances their utility in various environments.

The Thermite robots are powerful, able to unleash up to 2500 gpms of water, tackling intense blazes.

Their water delivery rate, varying between 700 to 2500 gallons per minute, allows firefighters to distance themselves from danger, enhancing safety.

The propulsion and power systems are noteworthy.

“The RS1 and RS3 robots are operated by a diesel engine while the EV1 and EV2 are electric,” Lemons explains.

The robots are remotely operated using a belly pack controller, providing high-definition video feedback for situational awareness and precise control.

Each robot has a standoff range of over 300m/984ft, ensuring operators can manage them from a safe distance, minimizing risk.

Thermite robots can handle a range of scenarios, from basic cooling to hazardous three-dimensional fires, preserving personnel for critical tasks and maintaining readiness.

For departments with limited personnel, the robots enable quicker scene clearance and lower firefighter exposure, enhancing overall operational efficiency and safety.

Different models

RS1: The smallest diesel-powered Thermite system, designed for maneuverability and efficiency.

It flows up to 1250 gpms, operates two attack lines simultaneously, and is ideal for navigating tight spaces while serving as a mobile ground monitor.

RS3: Built for high-output operations with a capacity of 2,500 gpms.

It features seven hose inputs, a modular design for additional equipment, and a robust build that allows it to haul gear, evacuate casualties, push vehicles, and pull trailers, making it versatile in demanding scenarios.

EV1: An all-electric system providing real-time situational awareness, with a flat top deck for modular payloads or equipment transport.

Powered by high-capacity batteries, it operates in oxygen-deprived environments, enhancing its ability to enter hazardous areas without needing clean air.

EV2: Similar to the RS3 but powered by electric batteries instead of an internal combustion engine.

It offers options like a plow, CAFS, and foam tank, and can move cars and clear barriers with its 1250 gpm monitor.

Its flat top design provides storage for cargo or casualty extraction devices, making it versatile for various firefighting and rescue operations.


The feedback from firefighters and emergency responders who have utilized Thermite robots in the field has been overwhelmingly positive.

Lemons mentions that while some departments have restrictions on sharing specific details, the general sentiment among operators is one of strong approval: “The word of mouth coming from the operators is that they can’t imagine not having it,” he explains.

He says that firefighters are constantly discovering new ways to deploy the Thermite robots, reflecting their adaptability and usefulness in various scenarios.

For example, the robots can gain entry to buildings by using hand tools to punch holes in walls or doors, providing access in situations where human entry would be hazardous.

On user feedback, Lemons remarks: “The stories coming from LA City are far beyond what we would have imagined the vehicle’s capability limits would be.

“We want to gain as much information from the end users as this also helps us in the future development of products, but also in our interactions and training with new customers.”


Lemons reflects on the initial hurdles: “We were the tip of the spear in developing remotely controlled firefighting systems.”

This pioneering effort required both technological innovation and a deep understanding of the unique needs and risks faced by first responders.

A primary goal was enhancing firefighter safety while enabling them to protect their communities.

Lemons emphasizes: “For us, the Thermite robot is a tool that our first responders can use to protect themselves and their communities.”

Ensuring firefighters have the best tools was central to their development process.

Safety was also paramount.

Lemons states, “We want to ensure that the firefighting community is equipped with the best tools and equipment possible to not only ensure their safety but that they are able to return home to their families.”

This focus drove innovation and rigorous testing.

The most significant challenges was the balance between cost and the imperative to save lives.

Lemons explains: “If we can save one firefighter from death or injury, we are successful.

“We don’t want to put a dollar sign on an injury or especially a fatality, but replacing a tool in my eyes is far better than the alternative.”


The Thermite robotic firefighters are set to significantly impact the firefighting and emergency response industry, especially in municipalities with large industrial facilities.

Lemons highlights: “Municipal fire departments that have industrial facilities within their jurisdictions will want this tool.

“This includes communities with large industrial warehouses, nuclear power plants, rail yards, chemical plants, or industries using large tanks of combustible materials.”

In such environments, fires can quickly become too dangerous for human firefighters.

Lemons explains: “These situations present the type of extreme conditions the Thermite firefighting robot was designed to take on, operated by a firefighter at a safe standoff distance.”

This safe operation prevents injuries and fatalities among first responders.

Thermite robots are particularly useful in handling ammonia-related incidents.

Lemons describes ammonia as “a colorless gas that, when ignited, especially inside a confined space, can quickly get out of control.”

Thermite robots can detect chemical vapors and mitigate risks without exposing firefighters to harm, enhancing safety and effectiveness in hazardous situations.

Additionally, Thermite’s advanced surveillance capabilities provide significant advantages in rescue operations.

“Thermite’s surveillance capabilities can also be used to provide situational awareness to firefighters should a building occupant become trapped,” Lemons notes, a feature that enables responders to plan the safest and most efficient rescue routes, reducing unnecessary exposure to life-threatening environments.


Howe & Howe Technologies is poised to push the boundaries of robotic firefighting and emergency response tools.

Ron Lemons envisions a future filled with innovative developments, asserting, “With a team of outside the box thinkers, nothing is out of the realm of possible.”

A key aspect of their strategy is continuous feedback and data collection from end users.

Lemons explains, “We will continue to gather data from our end users and come up with additional payload options, I’m sure.”

“This ensures products evolve with the practical needs of firefighters.  Howe & Howe is not limiting itself to any particular size or scope.

Lemons indicates they will “continue to think smaller scale, and larger scale too.”

This flexibility caters to a range of operational scenarios, from compact units to robust, high-capacity robots.

Collaboration with firefighters will continue to be fundamental to their innovation process.

Lemons highlights: “We use the input from the firefighters to help shape the ideas of what’s possible.”

This user-centric approach will ensure their robots are practical and effective in real-world applications.

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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