Located in Rockefeller-Center NYC, the FireZone is an immersive-classroom where K-12 students from all over the NY-metro area attend to learn about Fire-Prevention and Safety. Originally commissioned in 2000, the AV-playback systems were showing signs of wear and tear, and equipment could no longer be serviced and costly to maintain. In addition, existing systems were standard-definition; the cabling analog.

The FireZone is managed by the NYC-Firefighters-Foundation, a non-profit organization that does fund-raising to take care of the maintenance and annual operating-expenses for the venue. The space is booked solidly year round; the systems needed to be extremely robust and reliable, downtime was unacceptable. The goals for the project was to update the systems to contemporary technology, reduce the annual-maintenance costs, and improve the quality of the presentation. FireZone2.0 had to also include updated video-footage, and an entire new element, an interactive multi-touch-kiosk where the educators (retired firefighters) can answer specific questions and support the responses with pictures, 3D-models, or other info from the internet or searching the on-board library to retrieve the data. FireZone also attracts a lot of walk-in traffic; firefighters from all over the world come to visit. Anything displayed on the kiosk displays on the overhead- projection screen to share with the audience.

Another challenge for the project was to minimize site downtime, because of the schedule; we were limited to 7 “dark-days” for the entire site renovation. To overcome this challenge, VideoSonic set up the system in our shop, and do 99% of the programming “off-line” enabling us to “pre-test/pre-package” the upgrade to be almost a simple “plug and play” on site.

Students arrive at FireZone entering the pre-show area; a mock-up of an actual firehouse; it’s an ordinary day until the alarm sounds. At that point, lights dim in the firehouse, the projector runs the video “call to action”; a fast moving video showing the a firetruck racing through the city-streets to reach the fire.

The video ends, garage-door opens and the students enter a smoke filled room, the fire has just been controlled. The students gather around the educator, video called “aftermath” runs; it summarizes the damage caused and the effect of the fire at this residence.

The educator can then manually launch individual videos in which characters that the students can relate to describe what can cause various fires and how to prevent them from happening. The videos are supported by special-effects lighting, props, and smoke to simulate the actual cause for the fire. For example, cables illuminate green showing a safe circuit, but when it is overloaded, the cable glow red. At the end of the class, the room fills up with smoke and the students crawl out of the room as they would actually escape from a fire, and the enter the gift shop which is extremely popular amongst the students and tourists.

The system consists of a master show controller controlling a video and audio playback server, synchronized to SMPTE timecode. Each program can be launched manually or played back in sequence, operated by touch panels in the entrance or the theater. When a show is launched, the servers lock to time-code and the lighting scene is activated. As the program progresses, sound and lighting are controlled by the sequence. The lights return to normal at the end and the next show is cued up and ready for playback.

The legacy system, commissioned in 2000, filled five 44RU racks to capacity; the new system only required two and 1/2 racks. VideoSonic updated the equipment and infrastructure to Digital HD, and also re-encoded the content at full 1080p HD.

We replaced the old Medialon Show Controller with a new machine running their latest software. The show’s script was streamlined and modified for the replacement equipment. The touch-screen control panels were replaced with new Alcorn Show-Touch Controllers. The buttons were identical to the original control panels; there would be no learning curve to operate the new system.

The original BetaSP masters were re-encoded to HD; we added smooth transitions to each video. The HD-encoded videos were then loaded onto an Alcorn HD-Video Bin-Loop, which provides eight channels of HD-video in 3RU of rack space. The legacy video server, with its synch and fader gear, occupied an entire rack.

A new Tascam 48-track player handles all of the voices and sound effects, occupying only 4RU, instead of over 20RU for the previous audio server. BSS-BLU-100 audio processors handle the DSP and all device control is via Ethernet. New monitoring and KVM-gear were also included.

One of the most significant improvements was replacing the lamped projectors with Sony z55 laser projectors. Without the need to purchase and stock replacement lamps, maintenance costs were greatly reduced. The HD-video projected by the z55s looks incredible compared to the original SD video.

The Interactive Kiosk consists of a Cybertouch 32” Multi-touch LCD mounted to a pedestal-stand. The PC is located in the rack-room, connected to the system so it can also be displayed on the overhead screen in the pre-show entrance area. The educators have instant access to their library of videos, graphics and training manuals, allowing them to demonstrate concepts and content in a highly engaging, interactive manner. The touch screen also has links to numerous fire-related web sites and has proven to be a valuable tool, used frequently by the educators.

In summary, the project was a great success, exceeding the client’s expectations and coming in under budget. The unused allocated funds were refunded to the FDNY Foundation as a credit against their final invoice. We are very proud of our accomplishment and of our team involved with this project. It was a learning experience for all – and most importantly, lives will be saved as a result!