Fla. college student developing device to save firefighters like his dad
The goal of EaseAwake, a wearable wristband device similar to a FitBit, is to help sleeping firefighters wake slowly when a call to service comes in
The St. Augustine Record, Fla.
Growing up the son of a firefighter, Flagler College junior Blake Richardson heard plenty of stories from his father Brad about his work at the Fernandina Beach Fire Department.
Over the last 15 years of his dad's career, two of the common themes that always came up were the stress of the job and the lack of sleep. But one thing always stood out.
"[My dad] always told me that the leading cause of death for a firefighter is a heart attack," Richardson said. "A lot of that comes from stress and overexertion. When I realized the implications of that it was kind of shocking."
Richardson said he always wanted to come up with a way that would make his dad's job easier, and healthier. He hopes EaseAwake, an innovative device he came up with in high school that is now gaining attention around the state, will do exactly that.
The goal of EaseAwake, a wearable wristband device similar to a FitBit, is to help sleeping firefighters wake slowly when a call to service comes in. It's typical for firefighters working long shifts to be jolted awake by loud alarms that can quickly elevate heart rates. But firefighters wearing the EaseAwake will feel a vibration five seconds before the station alarm goes off allowing them to slowly wake up from a deep sleep.
"When you can mitigate that stress a little bit by having a physical alert, especially when they are in the middle of a deep sleep, I think that will decrease their stress levels," Richardson said. "It's a stressful job, there is no changing that, but mitigating stress in any way we can, that's what I want to do."
Richardson, 21, along with classmates in his entrepreneurship course at Flagler College, pitched the idea to a panel of judges in a "Shark Tank" style presentation during Business Week at the school in March. The idea won first place. Richardson also placed in the top five at a statewide entrepreneurship competition at the University of South Florida in April. He was one of 20 fellows selected for the program and received a prize of $5,000 for placing in the top five.
Much of the credit for helping to develop the idea, Richardson said, came from professor Paula Holanchock and classmate Jaydie Allen, who helped Richardson pitch the idea during Business Week.
"[Holanchock] has been the motivator for me. Connected me with people and encouraged me to enter competitions. Without her none of this happens," Richardson said.
But while Richardson racks up the accolades, there is still plenty of work to be done. He's currently looking for someone to produce a 3D sketch of the device and create a prototype. Once he does that, he will then begin to test EaseAwake on firefighters and collect data that shows that he hopes will show device's benefits. If all goes well, he will look to trademark and patent for the name and idea as soon as this summer.
"In between internships and classes I will be pushing it as hard as I can," he said. "After I graduate I plan to pursue it full time and see what I can make out of it over the next few years."
Richardson said he's pitched the idea to about 30 firefighters who say it's definitely worth pursuing. But there is one opinion matter matters most — his dad's.
"He is really excited about it. He wants me to push it so he can retire," Richardson said.
©2019 The St. Augustine Record, Fla.