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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Learning Something New Every Day

On Wednesday August 1, I participated in a tabletop exercise in Landover, Maryland, with many County, State and Federal officials in addition to corporate employees and contractors.  The exercise proved to be enlightening and informative to myself and once again demonstrated to me that you learn something new everyday.  I was impressed by the participants knowledge and ability to adapt to constant change in an emergency situation.

The topic of media, social media and the role of the Public Information Officer was a topic throughout the exercise.

Mark E. Brady

PGFD Field Tests Illuminating Safety Product

Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930, mebrady@co.pg.md.us

During the Firehouse Expo recently held in Baltimore, the Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department was invited to field test products designed to improve the safety of firefighters. Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor and a contingent of Fire/EMS Department personnel visited the booth of MN8 Products, a leading developer of enhanced illumination products.  There are numerous MN8 products available, we only field tested a small portion of what they have to offer.

According to their website, “A firefighter’s job is often dangerous, especially in dark or low light environments. And when your employees work in dark environments or a power failure occurs, safety is always a primary concern.” The MN8 Products website states, “Our unique photo luminescent products don’t require batteries or power to brightly light up the surrounding environment. In the dark, the glow from our products keeps people safe. Our firefighter safety products, developed and marketed under our Foxfire® brand name, are designed to increase the effectiveness and improve the safety of firefighters.”

MN8 invited Department personnel into a zero visibility trailer for a product demonstration. Illuminating wrap was used on axe handles and a band was placed around a helmet. While the demonstration was certainly impressive in darkened the conditions of their trailer, the prevailing question on everyone’s mind seemed to be, “How would they work under actual firefighting conditions, like a smoke filled room?” At the urging of the product representatives, Fire Chief Bashoor was provided a cache of sample products to conduct rigorous testing at the Fire/EMS Department’s Training Academy.

Using a group of recruit firefighters and a scheduled “live burn” exercise, MN8’s photo luminescent products were attached to a variety of tools, including SCBA and helmets. The first exercise utilized a blacked out room in the burn building. According to Academy Instructor Fire Fighter/Medic Lieutenant Ashley Breen, “Without any doubt, the product clearly illuminates, Firefighters and tools were easily located and identified; however the orange tool grip wrap was not quite as vibrant as the yellow.” Breen continued, “My opinion is that these accessories greatly increase the visibility of firefighters in a dark environment.”

The second evolution involved a burn evolution simulating a fire in a high-rise building. Describing some of the challenges the recruits encountered, Lieutenant Breen stated, “Throughout the evening, I observed the students wearing the helmet straps and carrying the hand tools. It was pretty remarkable how visible they were throughout our evolutions. The engine company group had three out of four personnel equipped with helmet straps. When they encountered some difficulty in hooking up to the standpipe riser, one crew member actually relied on the glow of their helmet strap to better illuminate the standpipe riser. As soon as they did this, they were able to hook up without delay and charge their line.”

During the final burn evolution Lieutenant Breen paid particular attention to the helmet illumination straps during a heavy smoke environment. “I observed the engine crew as they actually made entry into the second floor burn room.” stated Breen, “ I paid special attention to how far away I maintained visual contact of the person wearing the helmet strap. I was standing about 2 feet outside of the burn room and could see approximately 3 feet inside before I lost sight of their helmet with thick smoke in the room.”

The recruit firefighters commented that the visibility provided through the helmet straps made it easier for them to stay in contact with fellow firefighters. Breen stated, “As an instructor, I feel that these accessories are a valuable tool that we should add to our toolbox.” She would like to see a variety of color illumination straps to distinguish between crews and their responsibilities in a training environment. For example, an engine crew would be yellow, truck company would wear orange and the rescue squad would wear blue.

The Department plans to continue evaluation of the MN8 products at the Fire Training Academy before decisions are made regarding department wide acquisition. Additional product testing will include long-term durability, cleaning and service life. Fire Chief Bashoor stated, “I can definitely see a use for these illumination products in the fire service. They exceeded expectations in our first round of evolutions and appear to have held up well under high temperatures and adverse conditions.” Bashoor continued, “While I cannot provide a product endorsement, I plan to wear one on my helmet and would encourage firefighters to use one as well. They are effective tools for safety, after all, Safety First ensures everyone goes home.”

All photos by Mark E. Brady

Helmets of recruit firefighters with MN8 Product Foxfire bands.

Helmet of recruit firefighters with MN8 Product Foxfire band.

SCBA bottle with a larger illuminating band.

Tools wrapped in illuminating grip tape.

Tools wrapped in illuminating grip tape.  Notice the orange grip tape on one of the poles.

This is the position the recruit firefighters were placed in prior to the lights going out.  Firefighter 1 is wearing a helmet shield and has an axe with orange grip tape.  Firefighter 3 has the SCBA bottle band and pole with orange grip tape.  Firefighters 1,2, 4 and 5 all have helmet bands.

The same position with total black-out conditions.

A close look at a helmet band which clearly illustrates the number 3.

Fire Chief Bashoor talks with the recruits.

A live fire evolution was conducted with recruit firefighters closely followed and monitored by Academy Instructor Lieutenant Breen.

Firefighter 4 prepares to enter the burn building.

Recruit firefighter stands by to ascent a ladder to the second floor has a helmet band and pole wrapped in orange grip tape.