Partner Profile: The Firefighter / Software Developer

May 13, 2014
Charlie Jacobson shows his app to FirstNet's TJ Kennedy at the APCO Broadband Summit
Charlie Jacobson shows his app to FirstNet's TJ Kennedy at the APCO Broadband Summit

Everyone’s been asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Only a few of us, however, end up becoming the astronaut, actress, or professional athlete that we dreamed about.

Charlie Jacobson had two answers to that question. The first one was more conventional: he always wanted to become a firefighter. But as he gained more experience with computers, he wanted to become something that most children didn’t know existed: a software developer.

Now Charlie is a 20-year old Princeton University student pursuing both of these passions. His first major software venture ties both of his career paths together. Called FireStop, it's a mobile application that aims to provide firefighters with critical data and information before, during, and after fires.

Before Charlie could even drive, he became a firefighter with the Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Volunteer Fire Department. He observed early on that the everyday firefighter could be more technologically equipped given the wealth of information available through databases, building layouts, and other online resources, like maps.

His experiences as a volunteer firefighter led him to pursue his other career – developing software. Charlie built the application based on his experiences of responding to incidents and seeing his station unaware of certain physical aspects of buildings.

He spent almost three years working on the comprehensive platform, optimizing it for fire stations by beta testing with eight local fire departments. He received positive feedback during the testing, with weekly calls from stations asking him to add more features to FireStop. The young entrepreneur worked with a team of Princeton University software developers to add features based on feedback from initial users.

FireStop uses satellite imagery, extensive structural pre-plans, and hazard information to give firefighters fast access to a database of mission critical data, such as fire hydrant locations and hazardous material warnings. To access this information, a firefighter or incident commander can tap and scroll on the screen of a tablet to see the location of gas lines or the closest hydrant. FireStop also uses a secure connection between the database and user to prevent unauthorized access and disruptions in communication.

Since FireStop’s “soft” launch a few weeks ago, Charlie says several dozen stations have signed up to use the app. While it will always be geared toward firefighters, he plans to evolve the application so it can be used by other agencies, such as the municipal building inspector. Charlie says the deployment of a nationwide public safety broadband network will be a “game changer” that will spur the innovation and adoption of these and other types of capabilities by emergency response personnel. “There will be so much more data available to first responders,” Charlie tells FirstNet. “There will be many others who will start building apps like FireStop that don’t just provide info, but info that is real-time.”

FirstNet looks forward to fostering an environment of innovation, one in which public safety first responders such as Charlie are involved in shaping the life-saving communications tools that will enable them to perform their jobs safer and more effectively. As the public safety community adopts new video and data technologies, this will lead to enhanced situational awareness and improved decision-making during response operations, which will help them save lives and property.

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