Firefighters in the Menlo Park Fire Protection District have a new technology that will help them navigate burning buildings and find people twice as fast, the fire chief said.
The technology is known as the C-Thru platform. It includes a navigation unit that attaches to the firefighter’s helmet and allows them to clearly see objects in a burning building.
Manufactured by San Francisco-based startup Qwake Technologies, the C-Thru Navigator uses thermal imaging technology to help firefighters identify objects on their way, retrace their steps, find exits, and communicate with other firefighters. Menlo Park Fire Protection District is the first in the country to use the new technology.
Fire chief Harold Schapelhouman said they signed a deal on Friday to buy units for each of their 40 frontline firefighters for a total of $ 210,000.
“With this technology we can now find people about twice as fast as before,” said Schapelhouman. “It’s a game changer.” Schapelhouman said they have worked with Qwake Technologies for the past two years, testing various prototypes of the C-Thru platform and providing feedback.
With this new contract, firefighters would work with designers to develop the final version of the product.
According to Schapelhouman, one of the greatest advantages of the navigator is that he has his hands free. Most firefighters use a handheld thermal imaging camera, or TIC, that attaches to their belt or air bag.
“You have to lift it up to look through it, so it’s not the most convenient device. But it’s more beneficial than not having what we had when I started. You didn’t have any of that stuff, so you pretty much crawled around in the blind, “said Schapelhouman.
Back then, without technology, firefighters could easily get lost or disoriented, making it difficult to leave the building when they find someone to rescue. The C-Thru Navigator mounts on helmets with a downward-hanging eyepiece so that firefighters can see through.
Schapelhouman said that when looking through the eyepiece, objects are painted a green hue, which makes furniture easy to distinguish from people. The green lasers give the firefighters a depth and spatial awareness that they did not have before. The lasers are also safe for the eyes.
Firefighters can also use the C-Thru Navigator to communicate with other firefighters who are wearing the device so they can call for help at the touch of a button. It also livestreams incidents to commanders outside the building who can make tactical decisions based on what they see. The units cost just under $ 5,000 per unit, Schapelhouman said, cheaper than handheld cameras, which could cost $ 7,000 to $ 13,000 each.
The fire department held a demonstration for other fire departments and media representatives on Friday.
Schapelhouman said the people who saw it were amazed and wondered how something so small and seemingly simple could be so useful.
“The answer is amazing technology. It’s about taking things that we have thought or wished for for the last 10 to 20 years on multiple levels and put them all together, and it works,” said Schapelhouman. “This is not a pipe dream. This is real and it happens.”