Princeton Students Work to Give Firefighters Critical Information

In a fast-moving fire, a moment's delay can lead to extensive property damage or even lives lost. To help prevent that, a team of Princeton University students is developing an easy-to-use database that will put information about buildings and fire conditions at fire chiefs' fingertips.

"Our goal is to bring better information to firefighters," said Charlie Jacobson, a Princeton rising sophomore and volunteer firefighter who is part of the team. "And we need to provide this information quickly and intuitively."

The team's product, called FireStop, is powered by a database of relevant information such as building layouts, fire hydrant location and hazardous material warnings. To find needed information, whether the closest hydrant or the number of building exits, a firefighter would just tap on the screen of an iPad.

The team is developing FireStop as part of eLab, a summer business accelerator run by Princeton's Keller Center at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Students will present their entrepreneurial pursuits to investors and fellow entrepreneurs during the second annualeLab Demo Day from 2:30 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 14, in the Friend Center Auditorium.

The FireStop team is of one of nine groups participating in this summer's session of eLab, which provides workspace, mentoring and stipends for the student teams. Sanjeev Kulkarni, anelectrical engineering professor who directs the Keller Center, said it is not unusual for the student teams to combine business and public service.

"Many of the businesses these students are building are sure to have significant impact on the community," he said. "It is particularly gratifying when the teams create positive social value while pursuing their entrepreneurial passions."

FireStop is not the first attempt at bringing better information to firefighting. Mobile databases are currently available for fire departments, but Jacobson and his team believe they have a better way to deliver information to officers commanding a fire response.

"It's about the interface," said Jacobson, a computer science major, who said the team is concentrating on making FireStop easy to use. "You click the button and it's right there."

The challenge is to make the system inclusive but easy to use. Jacobson said a straightforward format is particularly important to avoid overburdening volunteer fire companies, whose members already have fairly intensive training requirements on top of their everyday jobs. With that in mind, the FireStop system features a touch screen format designed for quick and easy use. The system also uses a secure connection between the database and the user, both to prevent unauthorized access and interruptions in communication.

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