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New device could help firefighters avoid heart attacks

North Florida college student developing EaseAwake smart watch device

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The National Fire Protection Association says sudden cardiac death was the leading cause of on-duty firefighter deaths in 2015. That shocking fact led a college student on the First Coast to come up with an idea for an innovative device that he hopes will reduce some of the stress firefighters have to deal with every day.

Blake Richardson, 21, is a junior at Flagler College and has a good reason to want to help firefighters.

"My dad has been a firefighter for the past 15 years,” Blake said.

His father, Brad Richardson, works for the Fernandina Beach Fire Department.

“We worked last night. A call came out and we woke up in the middle of the night. Tones get dropped.  You open your eyes. You’re startled. You look around and see what’s going on. And that whole time, she is reading off what’s happening, and you might or might not be 100 % alert to hear what’s going on and that’s when the call starts,”  Brad Richardson said.

Those stories of critical moments resonated with Blake Richardson.

“Any number of things and you have to be prepared to do each and every one of those things with 100% efficiency. You have to be great at your job because there are lives on the line,” Blake Richardson said.

He wanted to come up with a way to make those vital moments, as efficient as possible. The answer he came up with -- a device called, EaseAwake.

“It’s a wristband that vibrates and it is designed for firefighters, specifically, to alert them when a call comes in. It’s going to look similar to a smartwatch with a special communication chip. Whether they awake or don’t awake completely, it will be a subconscious preparation for them that an alarm will sound,” Blake Richardson said.

He is still developing a prototype for the device but the response has been positive from firefighters around North Florida.

“This is a wonderful new concept. Anything that makes a firefighter's job less stressful is a great thing,"  said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.

When calls for rescue come into fire stations, firefighters never know what they'll face.

“It could be something small to something life-threatening and you don’t know what that is. So, it definitely adds a lot of stress to the job. That’s been one of the most negative parts of the job, the distress it adds to you physically,” Brad Richardson said.

Blake Richardson's dream is to save the lives of those who save you. EaseAwake is one step closer to doing that. He hopes to have a prototype ready to go sometime next year.

Days ago Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill granting certain benefits to firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer. In 2016, cancer-related deaths accounted for 70 % of firefighter deaths.

About the Authors:

An Emmy-nominated TV reporter and weekend anchor.