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Local Firefighter Invents Safer Way To Back Big Rigs

ST. PAUL (WCCO) -- It's a concern every time a fire truck or ambulance driver goes in reverse. Drivers are careful and vigilant, taking precautions not to back over somebody or something.

To do the job safely, St. Paul fire crews rely on hand signals between a driver and a spotter. But that method can also have its limitations and concerns. Each year trucks that are backing up cause around 20,000 injuries and more than 100 fatalities in the U.S.

"They're hard to see, you have a lot of miscommunications and delayed reaction times," Jovan Palmieri, fire captain, said.

That's why the St. Paul fire fighter began tinkering for a better way. Palmieri's first prototype won the grand prize at the 2010 Minnesota Inventor's Congress expo. Since 1958, the expo has been held to judge innovative ideas that can be patented and produced for market.

Holding up his initial prototype, Palmieri muses, "it was crude, but it did the trick."

After a series of refinements in design, Palmieri's invention is now ready for market. The device is called the BackSafe System. It allows a vehicle's driver and spotter to communicate simply by a color code over two small wireless devices. If the spotter senses danger, a switch is activated on the handheld device, activating a visual and audio warning on the driver's dash.

"It replaces hand signals and shouting and banging against the truck with instant wireless communication," Palmieri said.

The goal is to improve safety for emergency, municipal and utility crews, where accidents in big rigs are both deadly and costly.

"A vehicle has a 95 percent chance of backing into something. If you don't hurt anyone, just do property damage, it's a $7,000 expense," BackSafe president, Mike Wayman, said.

That's more than twice the cost of what each BackSafe device will sell for.

Already, the St. Paul Fire Department has applied for a federal grant, hoping to install the units in 40 trucks and ambulances.

"We're very proud of him for coming up with this idea. An invention that is going to save lives," Fire Marshal, Chief Steve Zaccard, said.

Palmieri smiles and explains, "if I could help save just one person's life, then it would be well worth the work I've put into it."

The Inspire 2015 Innovation Expo will be held April 30 to May 1 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

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