Rushing into a burning building is not the only hazard to firemen — what can be done to help them combat overheating and over-exertion?
The mental imagery that comes to mind for these men and women, clad in yellow suits and rescuing screaming women and children from burning tower blocks doesn’t quite take into consideration the human side — when in only minutes a house fire can reach temperatures of over 300 degrees, the toll that takes on a fireman can be excruciating.
It is in a situation like this that fireman Michael Robinson from Heiskell, Tennessee, realized something should be done to assist fire crews in more ways than trying to prevent them being burnt. While combating a house fire, he saw a fellow fireman struggling to get off the ground.
Wearing 70 pounds of gear, the man was “delirious” with heat and exhaustion. Robinson removed him from the area — using wet towels to cool him down as best as he could. Slowly, the man stabilized, but when cardiac arrest risk is part of the job due to heat stress, and approximately half of line-of-duty deaths are caused by this — this surely deserves better preventative methods.
Budgets are an issue. Protection is available, and for well-funded departments, their crews are kitted out with misting fans and cooling vests. But when the majority of fire crews in the U.S. are volunteers — a staggering 71 percent according to PopSci – tight budgets can only cover the basics.
So what’s to be done? Robinson pondered the question, and eventually reasoned that although the concept of misting fans was worthwhile, the space required, time to set up and expense wasn’t viable. Why not turn the discharge caps that cover hose ports on every truck into makeshift misters instead?
A standard fire truck has six to eight ports that connect to a water tank, and its unusual for all to be in use at the same time. After building a prototype, Robinson came up with the ‘Heatseeker’ — six holes drilled into a discharge cap made of brass and screwed into standard mister nozzles.
Once the water was turned on, a cloud of mist large enough to cover two firefighters cooled the surrounding air by 30 degrees, and only used two gallons of water an hour.
The invention was successful enough that all 15 trucks at the Heiskell department are now equipped with the simple, innovative devices. Since then, over 50 Heatseekers have been produced for other fire departments.
It has also been adapted for fire hydrants — in order to cool children down in summer, and another for garden hoses that can be used in outdoor concert venues.
Image credit: Flickr