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UW System alumnus founds startup to produce life-saving devices for firefighters

The startup of UW System alumnus Captain Jeff Dykes aims to make fighting fires safer. Capt. Dykes, who holds a Bachelor's degree in communications from UW-Parkside and a Master's degree in career and technical education from UW-Stout, founded Northern Star Fire LLC in 2014. He invented the company's flagship product, the 'Northern Star,' a directional guidance system for use by firefighters in the midst of a burning building.

"We go inside of your house to rescue you and preserve your property, and we can't see our hand in front of our face," said Dykes, who is a captain with the Eau Claire Fire Dept. and a 20 year veteran of the fire service. Dykes and Northern Star Fire worked with local engineers to produce and patent the Northern Star, a tiny black device made of fire-resistant materials that sticks to a firefighter's protective face shield and illuminates to them which cardinal direction they are currently facing.

It's an idea Dykes conceived while chatting with colleagues about the issue of disorientation on job. At the time, firefighters relied either on the hose line behind them or their training and intuition to orient themselves in a burning building where often the smoke is so thick that it prevents any vision. Capt. Dykes' invention will make firefighting safer and will potentially save lives.

Dykes developed his idea from a pitch submitted to local pitching competition into a full-fledged business, which recently won the annual Governor's Business Plan Contest, a major statewide competition for early-stage companies. Fire departments across the country have begun using the compass in trials, and Dykes is looking to finalize his first major order.

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