If you were at the Warrior West Expo in San Diego hosted by ADS, Inc then you had a chance to see this item on display at the Strategic Rescue Products booth (SRP). This is another product that got a lot of attention by curious passersby. Let’s get into the product.

“Firefighter disorientation, which is loss of one’s direction due to the lack of visibility in a structure fire, is one of fire fighting’s most serious hazards and according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and typically precedes a firefighter fatality.”

As a 23-year veteran professional firefighter, I am skeptical of gadgetry on the fire ground. It has been my experience that there are no substitutes for being fit, knowing the hazards of the profession and executing solid fireground tactics… that is, until Murphy started killing my friends. Detailing the specific events of each of the three fit, experienced, and highly capable firefighter’s deaths that I’ve experienced is beyond the scope of this review; however, suffice it to say, that disorientation played a significant role in the deaths of those brave men and the efforts that dozens of equally capable firefighters put into their failed rescues. In short, had there been a tool available that would have provided accurate insight to the most basic cardinal directions those men would likely still be alive.

When I was asked to put the Northern Star through its paces, it is in this context that I reviewed it. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen variations on a compass being used on the fireground. It is, however, the first time I’ve seen one deliver. I found the magnetometer, backed up by an accelerometer was accurate on the fireground (burn buildings, training tower, etc.). It was accurate in the high radio-frequency interference environment of one of the worlds largest and busiest commercial airfields. It was accurate at three stories below grade in tunnels made of concrete and steel. It was accurate in massive warehouse structures. It was accurate in my diving mask at 60 feet on a compass course where the Northern Star was the only compass used.

Its design facilitated its use in high stress, low fine-motor-skill settings. Turning it on is easy with a simple double-tap and shake of the mask. Turns itself off when idle for longer than 3 minutes. At the beginning of my training/testing/shift days I put a fresh battery in and never had a battery related failure. The battery is simple to change out and charge (as tested, it came with two batteries and a charger).

Since I don’t wear reading glasses to fight fires, I found the color-coded display an impressively simple way to maintain my orientation without having to read a tiny letter. Under stress conditions I had solid information on cardinal directions the moment my mask was on my face (the walk up to the fire apparently bumped my mask the requisite two times and my mask moved around enough to stimulate the accelerometer, so it was up and running the moment I started donning my mask.

To put it simply, the Northern Star works as advertised, is simple to use, durable, and reliable. At an MSRP of $149 its reasonably priced enough that I’m able to invest in one myself and within reach of most departments. This gadget won’t replace fitness, training, or ongoing tactical education, but it is clearly a force multiplier that I will ensure is with me for the rest of my career.

Check in with these companies to learn more:

Strategic Rescue Products

ADS, Inc.

Justin Overholt
Firefighter/Paramedic/Technical & Tactical Rescue Technician
Denver Fire Department

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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