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OTTUMWA — When you name an invention after someone, it’s only fair that you give that person a private explanation of how it works, right?

Charles Smith brought his “Benge Beacon” to the Ottumwa Fire Department this week after earning a spot in the Invention Convention’s national competition. The idea came from a talk by Deputy Fire Chief Cory Benge, when he mentioned how hard it can be to see through smoke.

“Sometimes when there’s a residential fire, the firefighters don’t know how to get back out of the house,” Charles said. His beacon has a light that can be set to flash, and a hook or magnet that can easily be attached to wherever firefighters make their entry. If they have to evacuate quickly, the beacon helps get them back.

Charles, who is in kindergarten, is clearly a firefighting enthusiast. He showed up for the demonstration wearing a coat with the same reflective stripes firefighters use. He showed how the beacon can be clipped to the coat so a firefighter’s hands are free until they get inside the building.

The goal now, aside from the national competition in Michigan and the upcoming Little League season, is to talk with firefighters at other departments about the idea. And Charles has some support. Benge said with a couple of tweaks the beacon could be a very viable tool for firefighters.

“You’re sure to be on ‘Shark Tank’ sometime soon,” Benge said.

Unlike many of his peers, Charles wasn’t intimidated by being at the station and beside fire trucks whose wheels are nearly as tall as he is. It wasn’t his first time at the station, and he said becoming a firefighter might be a career in his future.

Why? Charles flashed a big grin. Let’s face it, those trucks are just cool. And the firefighters know who he is.

“He’s one of the guys,” Benge said.

The national competition is in late May in Dearborn, Mich.

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Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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