A working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has “classified occupational exposure as a firefighter as a human carcinogen”. Part of the reason is the toxic gases that firefighters are exposed to.
Wildland firefighters working on a plant fire cannot wear the traditional self-containing respirator used by construction firefighters. It is very bulky and heavy and only lasts 10-30 minutes.
In an effort to provide less carcinogenic air to prairie firefighters, the Department of Homeland Security’s Directorate of Science and Technology is developing a respirator capable of eliminating airborne hazards present in a prairie firefighting operating environment. They are working with the International Firefighters Association, the National Fire Protection Association, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the US Forest Service, and local Colorado fire departments to develop and test the Wildland Firefighter’s Respirator (WFR). It contains a HEPA filter unit that removes very fine particles, and a carbon sorbent to remove toxic gases. The team is investigating prairie firefighter-approved designs such as the Radio Carrier and the hip-mounted units pictured below.
The WFR is designed around a lightweight mask that covers only the mouth and nose. It is based on filtration, designed to perform a full fit before a change is needed.
“Our system pushes clean air to firefighters using a powered blower with HEPA and carbon filters,” said Kimberly Jones Holt, S&T program manager. The system connects to the half-mask through a lightweight, flexible breathing hose to provide clean air and draw air from the bottom of the unit to prevent rain or water intrusion.
“The filters are also designed to be inexpensive and easily replaceable at $5 to $10 each,” Jones Holt continued.
It uses an electric blower to force filtered air into the mask, relying on AA batteries for power.
The Department of Homeland Security says that if wildland firefighters use respiratory protection, their careers could be significantly extended, resulting in a more educated and experienced workforce able to conduct more efficient operations, with lower medical bills and training costs.
Thanks and a tip of the hat out for Bob.