EXCLUSIVE: 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 groundbreaking new first responder tracking and location technology that allows first responders to pinpoint their colleagues more precisely in emergencies.

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

Only FOX 5 was there for the first live operation test ever with firefighters from Fairfax, Loudoun, and Stafford County.

"We’re trying to improve the safety of the first responder firefighters," William Stout, Program Manager for Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology.

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This new, 3D technology uses magnetoquasistatic fields to locate firefighters up to 229 feet on scene. There are existing tracking technologies that use GPS, but often fail inside buildings and when there’s heavy smoke.

In an actual emergency response, the firetruck will show up with the Pointer technology, the transmitter stays outside, the visualization software can be turned on right away, and the firefighters are wearing the receiver so the commander can track where everyone is at all time. That way, if a teammate is lost or there’s a man down type of event, the technology can be used to find a firefighter that may be lost or hurt.

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

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The purpose? To keep firefighters safe and protected so they can go home to their loved ones at night.

"We want everyone to go home every day," said Brian Edmonston, Fairfax County Battalion Chief.

The size of the unit originally started off as the size of a backpack, now they are the size of a cell phone and engineers are working to make it even smaller.

The device is expected to be available for fire departments to use within the next year. This has been in the works for a decade and continues to be tested in different structures, environments, and weather conditions.