Veteran firefighter comes up with device to help comrades

Every day, firefighters across the world storm blindly into burning buildings to save lives of people — often without even being able to see their own hand in front of their face.

For 20-year firefighter veteran Captain Jeff Dykes of the Eau Claire Fire Department, this is an experience he knows all too well.

“You don’t have to do our job very long to realize that when you go inside these houses or structures, you don’t know what the floor plan is,” Dykes said, “and you can very quickly become disoriented.”

Determined to find a solution, Dykes started Northern Star Fire in 2015, which he runs with his wife in Eau Claire. Its flagship product is an electronic eight-directional compass for firefighters.The company was profiled as part of a business series written by UW-Madison students.

This device, appropriately named the Northern Star, adheres to firefighters’ face masks to help them navigate in zero-visibility conditions and regain orientation through four different-colored LED lights that illuminate during their entire time fighting a fire.

“Not a single (firefighter) has a directional guidance system in their mask as we speak. Northern Star is the only alternative for what would seemingly be a very simple technology,” Dykes said.

The compass contains a magnetometer, like the one in your smartphone, which reads the earth’s magnetic field and points you in a desired direction.

Unlike your smartphone compass, however, Northern Star’s magnetometer is much more accurate and better at “filtering out” man-made interferences, Dykes pointed out.

Each Northern Star compass will also include two rechargeable, lithium batteries with a lifespan of seven to eight hours per battery, Dykes said. Read the full story here.