By Michael Norris, Pentagram assistant editorAugust 16, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - "You guys ready to go get lost?" asked an Arlington County firefighter as he entered a building on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall with a handful of people assessing new technology designed to protect first responders.
The Department of Homeland Security was on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Aug. 12 to demonstrate equipment that can track firefighters and first responders in emergency situations.
Greenbelt, Md., based TRX Systems, under the auspices of Homeland Security, had firefighters from JBM-HH, Fairfax City and Arlington and Fairfax counties gather outside and in Bldg. 406, an old barracks, to show how systems it developed can follow first responders when they're inside buildings fighting fires.
"TRX was tasked to develop technology like a homing device," said Christine Lee, Homeland Security's Science and Technology program manager. "We're trying to develop technology that will help first responders." Demonstration of the prototype and feedback from firefighters using it in real-world situations, she said, help with "critical design review" so the systems can be further refined.
Two devices were field tested that day. One had firefighters attach transponders to their bodies so that a supervisor could track movements along corridors and up and down stairwells, so that if a first responder runs into trouble, he can be easily located and rescued.
If a firefighter radios in saying his location is on the fourth floor when he's actually situated on the third floor, the device can determine his elevation in the building, correcting any erroneous information that might have been provided in a chaotic situation.
Pointing to the lightweight transponders the size of a large bar of soap that first responders wear on belts, Brian Beisel, a software engineer with TRX Systems, said the next generation of the device would be half that size.
The second device demonstrated quickly retrieves building information like blueprints, floor plans, interior wall thickness and aerial views from a data base to help first responders better understand what they're confronting. Firefighters and other emergency personnel positions can then be located on a grid with computer software.
James Dansereau, a fire inspector with the JBM-HH Fire Department, said the tracking equipment on display was an advance over what his department currently has, which depends on radio frequencies to help locate firefighters inside buildings. "I'm impressed with what I've seen so far," he said, watching from the sidelines.
Joint base Fire Chief Russell Miller lauded the systems on display.
"It's taking advantage of new technology and making it work for us," he said.