Tragic loss ends in life-saving innovation
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - “There is no good that can come from these incidents unless we make a positive change.” The words were spoken by St. Paul Fire Chief Tim Butler as he stood next to Lisa Kline, the daughter of Margaret Kuehn whose life ended tragically in June of 2009 in nearby St. Paul neighborhood when she was struck and killed by a St. Paul Fire Department ambulance.
The event was an emotional press conference held last Tuesday. Butler, along with members of the Kuehn family stood inside Station 8 marking a milestone for not only those involved in the tragedy of 2009, but for fire departments around the country. St. Paul Fire Captain Jovan Palmieri, along with Mike Brusseau of BackSafe Systems, Inc. presented Butler and the St. Paul Fire Department with the first of what promises to be over 70 life-saving back-up systems that will prevent another incident like the one that took Kuehn’s life.
At the time of the accident, Palmieri had already been working on a device to allow a spotter to stand well behind a fire truck or ambulance and wirelessly transmit a signal to the driver that his backup path was clear. After Kuehn’s death, Palmieri enlisted the help of electrical engineering students at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Over the course of several years, the new system called “The Guardian” by BackSafe Systems, is being installed in emergency response vehicles around the country.
“There are hundreds of people who are backed over and killed. There are thousands injured every year,” said Palmieri. “And a lot of the people getting backed over are the spotters that the driver knows they’re back there. They just lose track of them in the mirrors and the person trips behind the truck and falls down or slips on the ice they’re not able to tell the driver to stop in time. So this will give them an instant stop signal if something like that were to happen.”
BackSafe Systems President Mike Brusseau presented the St. Paul Fire Department with a Guardian device with serial number 1 for it to use in the very firehouse that is home to the rescue vehicle that struck Margaret Kuehn. “I’m very honored that they remembered my mom, and it’s still in their thoughts and they’re doing this in her honor to help preventing this in the future,” said Kline after accepting the unit’s handset from Brusseau. A moment later, she handed the handset to Butler. As Butler motioned to the large fire truck behind the press conference podium, he announced that the system had already been installed in the truck on display, which was to be the first of over seventy St. Paul Fire Department rescue vehicles now slated to have the Guardian by BackSafe Systems installed. “We are in the business of saving lives, not taking them.” Stated Butler.
BackSafe’s Brusseau says the technology can be used for more than just fire departments and is excited about the life-saving capability of the small on-dash screen and orange handset device. According to Brusseau, the Guardian is already getting the attention of multiple industries such as public works, warehousing, trucking and construction. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota based company became involved in Palmieri’s project almost immediately claimed Brusseau. “Several people every hour in the US alone are injured badly enough by being backed into by a large vehicle to require hospitalization,” Brusseau explained. “Somewhere between every 4 to 6 days in this country alone someone is backed over and killed by a large vehicle. This is now completely preventable.”
Kline tearfully addressed the audience at Station 8 by not only accepting the system on behalf of her mother, but in embracing the work that had been invested into making a change.
“I can’t thank Jovan & Mike enough for digging into this and researching and perfecting this technology, so that we can get it out there to help prevent this in the future. The loss of my mother was devastating to our family but I also recognize how hard it is for the fire house and the whole department. I am just very happy to hear that they are embracing this technology, getting it installed and hopefully preventing this from happening in the future.”
Guardian by BackSafe Systems is a wireless communication system that allows the vehicle's driver and spotter to communicate without a clear line of sight and allows the spotter to immediately signal the driver to stop the vehicle. Audio alarms and LED lights alert driver when it's safe to back up or when to stop. The system also has built-in accountability as date, time and position are digitally logged every time the vehicle is shifted into reverse.