Virginia firefighters testing out new lifesaving technology

Developed by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL), POINTER is a groundbreaking new first responder location and location technology that enables first responders to more accurately locate their colleagues in emergencies.

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“This is a very exciting technology that adds another dimension to firefighters’ situational awareness,” said Ed Chow, POINTER’s program manager.

Only FOX 5 took part in the first ever live field test with firefighters from Fairfax, Loudoun and Stafford Counties.

“We’re trying to improve the safety of first responder firefighters,” said William Stout, program manager for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology.

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This new 3D technology uses magnetoquasistatic fields to locate firefighters at a distance of up to 70 meters. There are tracking technologies in existence that use GPS, but often fail indoors and when there is heavy smoke.

In an emergency, the fire engine shows itself with the pointer technology, the transmitter remains outside, the visualization software can be switched on immediately and the fire fighters carry the receiver so that the commander can see where everyone is at any time. In this way, the technology can be used to find a firefighter who could be lost or injured if a teammate is lost or a man is on the ground.

“We are excited to see how first responders perceive them, but also what the technology’s full potential is – how well the technology can enable them to save lives that has motivated this work,” said Darmindra Arumugam, NASA JPL Senior Research Technologist.

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The purpose? So that the firefighters are safe and protected so that they can go home to their loved ones at night.

“We want everyone to go home every day,” said Brian Edmonston, Fairfax County’s battalion chief.

The size of the device was originally the size of a backpack, now it’s the size of a cell phone and engineers are working to make it even smaller.

The device should be available to fire departments in the course of the next year. This has been in the works for a decade and continues to be tested in a variety of structures, environments, and weather conditions.