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Memphis F.D. Equips Recruits with LifeShirts; Equipment Transmits Wearer's Vital Signs

MEMPHIS-- The Memphis Fire Department soon will have a new tool to help ensure recruits don t overdo it physically during training.

The department is spending about $300,000 to purchase 80 LifeShirts that wirelessly transmit heart and respiration rates and skin temperature in real time to a nearby computer that is monitored by staff.

LifeShirts, which resemble a shoulder holster, will sound an alarm alerting training staff when the wearer is in trouble.

The purchase comes three years after a recruit collapsed into a coma after going through a series of training exercises during the so-called Hell Night in 2004. Six other dehydrated recruits also went to hospitals that night.

James Coleman suffered permanent brain injury. His family later reached a settlement with the city for $450,000 plus health benefits.

LifeShirts will be used with the recruit class that begins six months of training on Monday.

VivoMetrics of Ventura, Calif., is the maker of the equipment.

It s amazing, said Memphis fire safety chief Mark Heath, who helped test the equipment.

Heath said while the department keeps pretty tight controls over its recruit training and endurance exercises already, the technology will give them an extra safety net.

It s about ensuring that employees are safe whether they re in training or in a fire situation, he said.

Developed initially for the military, the technology is used by firefighters, first responders and even athletes. Most recently, LifeShirts have been used in studies to measure the stress on first-time skydivers and the attentiveness of television viewers to commercials.

Deputy Chief Michael Putt, who was not over training at the time of Coleman s injury, researched the technology a year ago.

When I saw this and read about it, I thought that this might make a difference, he said.

Putt said the devices may also pinpoint problems overlooked in the initial assessment, Putt said. This might catch something that got missed in the physical.

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