Jeff Dykes’ startup has a premise most firefighters are familiar with: Rush into a burning building, and it’s pretty easy to get lost in the haze.

“We go inside of your house to rescue you and preserve your property, and we can’t see our hands in front of our face,” said Dykes, a captain with the Eau Claire Fire Dept.

Dykes and his company, Northern Star Fire, have now received the grand prize in a major statewide competition for early-stage companies because of the solution he came up with to that problem: A digital compass that can be slapped onto the facepiece of a firefighter’s helmet so that it’s always visible.

Dykes calls the compass that won the annual Governor’s Business Plan Contest on Wednesday afternoon the “northern star.” It’s an idea he came up with simply while chatting about the issue of disorientation on the the job with colleagues around the fire department. At that time, high-tech solutions weren’t readily available on the market: Firefighters followed hoseline that they trailed behind them cookie-crumb style, or simply relied on their intuition and training.

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