U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Government Website

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Safely connect using HTTPS

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


  1. Science and Technology
  2. News & Events
  3. Technologically Speaking Podcast
  4. Tech Speak Minisodes
  5. Minisode 15: Almost Like You're Watching a Video Game

Almost Like You're Watching a Video Game

TechSpeak The Bonus S&T Podcast

C-THRU is a real-time, indoor visualization system that enhances firefighters’ situational awareness in low visibility environments. The technology is an augmented reality heads-up display that attaches to a standard helmet and makes it possible to “see through” dark, dense smoke. S&T and industry partner Qwake Technologies recently field-tested C-THRU with members of the fire service at the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department at the end of August—learn more about this exciting technology and find out what the firefighters had to say about it.

Run time: 07:37
Release date: September 27, 2023

Show Notes

Guests: Chad Willenberg, Captain, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department; Blaise Lynn, National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, S&T; Justin Quarisa, Captain, Cosumnes Fire Department; Sam Cossman, CEO, Qwake Technologies and Jay Martin, Executive Director, Mission and Capability Support.

[00:00:00] Chad Willenberg: Well time is muscle, time is heart, time is life. In our line of work, things deteriorate quicker over time. And the more intense the fire, the worse the environment, the less survivability there is. For not just ourselves, but the people inside. Being able to see that thermal image, or that, that image of the person is going to get us there faster. Being able to see the layout of the building from the interior, something that we've never had before, is going to get us there faster. Being able to recognize heat signatures or being able to direct people from behind is going to get us there faster.

[00:00:33] Dave: Hi, I'm Dave, Editor for S&T. And welcome to Tech Speak, a mini episode of the Technologically Speaking podcast. And that was the voice of San Diego fire rescue department, captain Chad Willenberg. S&T recently held an operational field assessment there at the end of August to get an innovative new capability called C-THRU into the hands, or rather onto the helmets, of firefighters. Let's dive right into the details with Blaise Lynn from S&T's National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, or NUSTL.

[00:01:00] Blaise Linn: When we do operational field assessment, our goal is always to try and create a good simulation of what firefighters or, other responders, would find in the field when they're using the technology. Obviously, for safety reasons, you know, everything has to be simulated. We didn't want to actually heat anyone up to 1,200 degrees. But we try to get as much realism as possible in our scenarios. The C-THRU device is designed to solve a couple of different problems for firefighters. Number one is just vision. You know, you're going into a smoke-filled environment, it's called C-THRU because it's supposed to help you see through the smoke. So that, that's sort of the core functionality is it's basically a hands-free thermal imaging system. But it's also, for the battalion chief, it's also a communications device. The incident commander standing outside is able to see that feed from the camera, as well as, send things like PAR checks, personal accountability report, requests. So, they're able to say like, ‘Hey, you know, it seems like you're not moving. Like, can you check in? Let me know you're okay.’ Everything's going good, you can hit a button on the device and send that like, yep, I'm all good. Check back out, as well as, you know, if you're not good, you can, report, you're in mayday. You need that, uh, faster RIC team to come get you out. you can also send that mayday and then the incident commander can also, um, call for an evac, you know, tell everyone, ‘get out of the building’ and that'll all go to the heads up display on the device.

[00:02:15] Dave: I'm not a first responder but C-THRU sounds pretty useful. Let's hear from the firefighter evaluators who tested the device. This is some more of what Captain Willenberg who you just heard at the top of the episode had to say at the C-THRU field assessment.

[00:02:27] Chad Willenberg: I think the advancement in the thermal imaging and the heads-up display option is certainly something that's never been done before that I've been a part of. Being in the fire service for over 25 years, this is certainly an advancement in the technologies over the years. I've seen this technology in my vision of fire equipment, but to actually try it firsthand and in this incipient phase is pretty awesome. Any new product, the more people you have, the more different viewpoints you have on it, the better product you're going to get at the end, right? In the fire service, the performance is overall the same, but everybody has their own little thing. Having a wide variety of people here, you have different knowledge base, different experience base, different technique utilizations, and this is a pretty well-rounded group, I think, that we're able to add all that to our own home base.

[00:03:17] Dave: What a great point about the importance of gathering different perspectives. Next up is captain Justin Quarisa of the Cosumnes Fire Department in Elk Grove, California.

[00:03:26] Justin Quarisa: I really like the technology so far. Really, every situation, just having it mounted to your helmet. It's a little different, but it's a good idea because it's right there in your vision, you have your hands free. You know, it's always with you. Usually, we wear it on our helmets, so that's one of the biggest benefits I see. But yeah, a lot of the scenarios that we would use it in, normally with like a regular handheld thermal imager, it just enhances it, keeping our hands free. Obviously, we have thermal imagers, but putting that on your helmet with a heads-up display, and then, the firefighter tracking is something that [00:04:00] everybody's been trying to solve. So... just having those capabilities and then the, AI component where it enhances what you're seeing, with the green image or you can, you know, take it off if you don't like it, but it really just gives you a lot better picture of a room and, almost like you're watching a video game. We work in an environment where speed and, being good at your job, matters. And so, if we save 20, 30 seconds searching a room or a house, it's absolutely going to save lives of the civilians as well as even ourselves, getting us out of that environment in a quicker amount of time.

[00:04:36] Dave: Next up is Sam Cossman, CEO of Qwake Technologies, S&T's industry partner on this project providing a bit more context about how C-THRU works.

[00:04:45] Sam Cossman: C-THRU is the first high compute, helmet mounted, augmented reality tool on the market. And I think it has the potential to transform how fires are fought. Handheld thermal imaging cameras have been around for a very long time. They're an indispensable tool in the fire service, but obviously, as the name suggests, they're handheld, and you need your hands to do your job. They're also grayscale images, and when you've got smoke between your eye and the screen, it makes it very difficult to see. One of the most important features of C-THRU is to take that raw thermal image, which is a tool that is used to see through smoke and through the darkness, and apply computer vision magic to kind of, draw lines around all the objects in the frame. So, an outline around a human body or, the geometry of a building, is rapidly kind of shown through the heads-up display. So you can very quickly say, ‘Am I am in a small closet or a big warehouse? Is there a victim on the ground? Is there a staircase to an egress?’ We call this “edge detection”, and it is a computer vision application that Qwake pioneered and patented to help firefighters make sense of their environment much more rapidly.

[00:05:48] Firefighters have long deserved better tools and I think we're finally in a position to be able to offer them with the support of DHS S&T. And it's a very exciting time to be working on technology in this space because for the first time, there's an incredible potential to unlock new applications that truly can change how fires are fought all around the world.

[00:06:06] Dave: Sounds like C-THRU has the potential to be a real game-changer. Let's conclude with S&T's Jay Martin Principal Director for S&T's Office of Mission and Capability Support, and a former firefighter himself.

[00:06:17] Jay Martin: I've seen firefighters here from Chicago and New York and California and other departments around representing the needs of both large and small. And I personally am excited because this is integrating technology that has traditionally not been used in the fire service and the capabilities offered here are to understand where people are in a dangerous environment, give them sight picture that they didn't receive before, using other technologies like infrared, but it gives them augmented reality so they can picture where they are. It is really just taking advancements and infusing it into the fire service, and I'm pretty excited about that. I think the C-THRU technology has the ability to provide better situational awareness, better environmental awareness, better understanding of the threats or the position that firefighter's in, which will ultimately save lives.

[00:07:17] Dave: That certainly sums it up nicely. Hopefully C-THRU will soon be helping firefighters in the field find their way to safety. You can learn more about the technology on our website and by following us on social media at DHS SciTech. DHS-SCI-TE-CH. Bye!

Last Updated: 04/01/2024
Was this page helpful?
This page was not helpful because the content