A robotic firefighting vehicle was used for the first time in the United States Tuesday to help crews battle a major emergency fire in downtown Los Angeles.

The fire broke out about 4:45 a.m. in a textile business in the 800 block of South Crocker Street and spread to an adjacent building. It took more than 130 firefighters about 3 1/2 hours to fully extinguish the blaze, said Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

“LAFD Arson Section is actively investigating the cause of the fire based on protocols due to the size of the incident,” Stewart said.

One firefighter was taken to a hospital for treatment of “non-life-threatening heat-related illness,” she said.

Arriving firefighters found a fire outside the building that appeared to spread into the structure. Crews made their way into the building and found fire burning inside, fueled by stacks of rolled fabric, and the incident commander requested additional resources, according to Stewart, who said a “robotic firefighting vehicle” was used.

The RS3 vehicle is a remote-controlled, track-mounted robot that weighs 3,500 pounds and is made by Textron. It is able to flow 2,500 gallons of water per minute, but during Tuesday morning’s blaze, it was used to clear debris inside the structure “to facilitate a more effective attack on the fire while eliminating the need to put any firefighters at risk,” Stewart said.

“The RS3 was purchased and donated to the department by the LAFD Foundation, making it the first use of a robotic firefighting vehicle in the country,” she said.

The department plans to use the robot to battle fires in large commercial buildings, auto storage facilities and fuel tankers, as well as for structural defense during wildfires and large animal rescues. The robot can run for 20 hours without refueling.

Firefighters appeared to have gained the upper hand on the flames within about 40 minutes, but the flames spread to an adjacent building. Each building is single story, and about 25-feet-by-75 feet, LAFD Capt. Erik Scott said.

The buildings house a number of businesses, including textile companies and flower marts.

“Due to the heavy amount of fire load inside of these multiple occupancies, with rolls of fabric and flower stores, we’ve been forced into a defensive operation, meaning that we pulled our firefighters from the inside out, to ensure their safety,” Scott told reporters at the scene after daybreak.

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