N.C. Firefighter to Use Wearable Computer on Job

Feb. 2, 2014
A Wake Forest firefighter was among the select to be allowed to purchase Google Glass, a wearable computer, that he says will make firefighers safer, more efficient.

Feb. 02--Patrick Jackson said he felt like the boy who got a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory when he won a chance to get Google Glass.

"I had to go to New York City to a Google building there and pick it up," said Jackson, a firefighter and software engineer. "It was very exciting."

Google Glass is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display that's being developed by Google.

Out of 150,000 applications recently submitted in the #ifihadglass competition on Google Plus, Jackson was one of 8,000 people chosen to buy Google Glass.

He paid for the product and his trip to New York with $2,000 that he raised through an Indiegogo campaign.

In his contest application, Jackson said he would use Google Glass to make firefighters' jobs "safer and more effective."

He wrote: "Mission critical information could be viewed quickly while never taking eyes off of the incident. Pictures and video could be recorded to add in fire investigation and incident critics. Personnel could stream realtime video to hangouts for an overview of the incident -- view multiple sides from one location. Occupancy hazards could be in your view instantly instead of flipping through notebooks...."

In an interview, Jackson said his goal is to make critical information, including floor plans and other building information, available to firefighters hands free and as quickly as possible.

Google Glass is still in its Explorer program phase where the company has thousands of beta testers using Glass.

"Patrick is one of them," Anna Richardson White, a spokeswoman for Google Glass, said of the beta testers. "The idea is to get feedback, inspiration and hear their concerns so we can make the product the best it can be before a wider consumer launch."

She said that the program wants to get Glass in the hands of a variety of people.

Musicians, teachers, parents and doctors, in addition to firefighters, were among the 8,000 people initially invited to get the product.

"We wanted to find a diverse group of people with different interests, experiences, and professions so we could see how Glass would work in a variety of situations," Richardson White said. "Patrick and his work in the fire service were a great example of a unique use case which made his application extremely interesting to us."

Jackson, 34, currently lives in Wake Forest with his wife, Cherry, a teacher for the Wake County school system, and their children, Lillian, 5, and Fairbanks, 3. But he grew up in Pfafftown and is a graduate of North Forsyth High School.

Jackson was always into computers in his early years, doing some basic programming and taking college-level courses in high school.

After graduating from high school in 1998, he attended N.C. State University for about a year, majoring in computer engineering.

He decided to change his major to environmental policy and management so he went to UNC Asheville, where he graduated in 2003.

"At that point in my life, I really wasn't doing anything with computers," Jackson said. "Then I got into the real world and started looking for a job."

He was interested in firefighting and found a job as one with the City of Rocky Mount in 2006.

"Now, I'm a fire engineer," he said. "That means I drive the ladder truck."

It wasn't until four years ago when he got his first Android smart phone that his interest in programming surfaced again.

"I started working on an app for mobile phones and tablets," he said.

He created an app called Firefighter Log in 2011. Word got out about what he was doing and eventually Jackson worked with Rocky Mount's IT department to tie his app into the Rocky Mount Fire Department's dispatch system.

When 911 calls for the fire department come into Rocky Mount's Communications Center, the information is dispatched to the fire department's iPads on its fire trucks and to firefighters' personal smart phones.

Firefighters are not required to install the app, which is free, on their smart phones. The iPads are a fairly recent addition to the fire department.

Keith McGee, operations division chief for the Rocky Mount Fire Department, said that Jackson's app has improved the department's response times.

"As an accredited department, we are held to trying to get out of the station in 90 seconds," McGee said.

He said that Jackson's app, along with some management activities, has helped the fire department lower its response time to about 80 seconds.

The app also helps firefighters get more details about an incident.

"Which helps in your being prepared to handle whatever it is whenever you get there," he said.

McGee is excited about Jackson getting Google Glass and what he will come up with.

"I think that his ability with his computer saviness and his tie to the fire service really will help him develop some apps that your typical computer programmer wouldn't do," he said. "I think his potential applications for the fire service are tremendous."

Jackson is developing his own business in hopes of making his Firefighter Log app available as a subscription service to other fire departments.

"That would include phones and tablet applications," Jackson said. "Google Glass would also be part of that same service."

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Copyright 2014 - Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

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