Over a two-year period, the department evaluated different combinations of instruments and sensors. The objective was to determine whether there was an immediate threat to life or health and, if the instrument alarmed, whether it would be sufficient to determine the need to secure the area and notify a hazmat team. The departments two hazmat teams tested various combinations of instruments using four sensors: lower explosive limit (LEL) for combustible materials, CO, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and oxygen (O2)....
>>> TOOLS & TECHNOLOGIES By BOB DURSTENFELD Using Technology to Gauge Appropriate Responses Chicago Firefighters Respond to Unseen Threats with Best Practices U nseen threats are routine for first responders. Knowing whether there is imminent danger is key to getting home safely. This column out- lines several cases in which the Chicago, IL, Fire Department (CFD) learned the value of using available technology in gauging an appropriate response. More than 10 years ago, the CFD be- Photos courtesy of RAE Systems gan deploying single-gas carbon mon- oxide (CO) monitors on all 200 of its en- gines and trucks. This came about with the advent of commercially available CO monitors for home use. The early home units often went into false alarm, and this would result in a panicked call from a homeowner for a response from the fire department. The need to know Department puts technology to the test whether there was an immediate threat The Chicago Fire to a wide range of emergency incidents.in various ways to determine the appro- priate responses to life or health could not wait for the arrival of a hazardous material response engine company arrived for what was Each sensor was chosen for the life-critical team. Each engine company was initial- thought to be a CO call. Because there or time-critical threat information pro- ly equipped with an industrial, single- was no alarm from the CO monitor, fire- vided if it went into alarm. The CO sen- gas CO monitor. These were most useful fighters assumed all was safe and entered sor was already proven. The LEL sensor in the winter, when CO calls were often the building. One firefighter turned on was selected to detect the presence of high due to incomplete combustion in faulty the building’s lights, initiating an explo- levels of flammable gas. The hydrogen sul- heating systems. sion from a natural gas leak. “We began fide sensor was chosen because H2S eas- “After a family died from carbon investigating the use of four-gas meters ily saturates a responder’s sense of smell. monoxide poisoning 12 years ago, … after several 911 calls where the CO The oxygen sensor was selected because it we first deployed single-gas CO sen- monitor was not sufficient to detect the would immediately indicate the need for sors on every truck,” said Chief Daniel unseen threat, and we had two gas ex- an air mask and may also show the pres- O’Connell, coordinator for CFD Special plosions,” added O’Connell. ence of an oxidizer. Other sensors that Operations and Hazardous Materials. Over a two-year period, the depart- were considered included chlorine and Single-gas CO monitors might still ment evaluated different combinations of ammonia, but both substances have other be the norm had it not been for some instruments and sensors. The objective characteristics that make them identifi- catastrophic events. In one instance, an was to determine whether there was an able. Four-gas instruments were evaluated immediate threat to life or health and, if for ruggedness, user interface, calibration BOB DURSTENFELD is RAE Systems’ senior director of corporate marketing and investor relations. Before joining the instrument alarmed, whether it would stability, battery life and ease of service. RAE Systems, he was senior director and staff technologist be sufficient to determine the need to se- “We went through an evaluation process for the Silicon Valley office of Fleishman-Hillard Public Rela- cure the
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