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Putting out fires: Engineering students solve real-world problems with lifesaving app

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 6, 2020 5:50 a.m.

Fire safety education and up-to-date training technology in schools vital to student safety.
Fire safety education and up-to-date training technology in schools vital to student safety. stock photo

When Dr. Lynn Gidluck, Community Director of the Community Research Unit (CRU) at the University of Regina, received a call for help from Candace Giblett of Regina Fire & Protective Services (RFPS), she saw an important opportunity for University students to help meet community needs. 

According to Giblett who is a public safety officer, the RFPS recognized that they had a serious problem. While Giblett could share story after story about children in Regina who have saved lives thanks to the fire safety education they received from RFPS in their schools, firefighters had begun telling her that the 9-1-1 teaching tool they are using is no longer relevant. 

“How many elementary school children in our city have ever seen a push button telephone before? Not many,” said Giblett. “We are delivering lifesaving education using seriously outdated technology. Our firefighters spend more time explaining what and how to use a dated land line telephone than actually teaching the students the important messages of why and how to call 9-1-1.” 

While the RFPS had a great idea to develop a cellular telephone ‘app’ for teaching fire safety messages to children, the department didn’t have software engineers on staff or the funding to contract the work. 

So Giblett made a call to the CRU to explain the problem and see if they could help her out. The CRU serves as a bridge between the community and the University, helping connect the research needs of the community with the research interests and skills of U of R faculty members and students. 

Gidluck did a little ‘sleuthing’ and found the perfect partner. 

“I asked around and learned that Dr. Tim Maciag, in the Faculty of Engineering, is always on the lookout for experiential learning projects for his software students.” 

After visiting one of the RFPS training sessions, Dr. Maciag said he had a possible solution to this technological problem. He would challenge the students in his ENSE 471 - User Interface Programming (People-Centred Design) to work with Giblett during the 2020 Winter semester. 

Maciag said his students were thrilled to work on a project that had the potential to solve a “real world problem.”  

“The students really rose to the challenge,” said Maciag. “Many of their designs are beyond what we originally hoped or expected.” 

Now thanks to a grant from the CRU, Regina Fire & Protective Services can hire one of the students who was in this class to bring the best of the design ideas that came out of the projects to final development and deployment. 

“Come the fall our firefighters will have a software application that they can use during their training sessions,” said Giblett. “We are so grateful to Dr. Maciag and his students for taking this assignment so seriously. They can feel good that their work solves a real problem for their community. Their work will literally save lives. How many students can say that?”