NYC firefighters are being tracked with military-developed radio tags

A firefighter works at the scene of a five-alarm fire that burned for several hours June 5 in the Staten Island borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A firefighter works at the scene of a five-alarm fire that burned for several hours June 5 in the Staten Island borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Washington Post

“New York City’s fire department is experimenting with outfitting its firefighters with $20 radio tags. Think of it as an E-Z Pass for tracking firefighters during the confusion of an emergency.

The new tool is, in some ways, part of the ongoing response to the chaos of the Sept. 11, 2001,  terrorist attacks. Back then, reports the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Space Systems Development Department, which is working on the project, the technology driving the department’s ride lists consisted of paper and carbon copies.

“It’s in a little sealed plastic — it looks like a little key fob, actually,” said George Arthur, a Naval Research Laboratory engineer, in a statement. “They’re positioned over the left breast, inside the bunker coat in a little Kevlar pocket that’s sewn in there. And it just sends out a little ping every five seconds: Here I am, here I am, here I am.”

Back on the truck, a $1,100 reader picks up the signal. “It just listens and says, ‘Okay, 1234, that’s Jessica Smith,’ so we know Jessica Smith is nearby,” said NRL’s David DeRieux. The data is also sent back to the FDNY’s command center in Brooklyn, too, and projected on a wall to help in the wide-scale coordination of firefighters.  They are currently testing the technology on 15 trucks.

“It seems like an interesting little gadget,” said Flood, “that doesn’t really have a purpose yet.”

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