Return to story

Technology will help firefighters track comrades

December 24, 2012 12:10 am

BY KATIE THISDELL

Advanced technology lets firefighters find those who have fallen or aren't communicating while in dangerous situations.

The "pack trackers" are part of an updated version of the self-contained breathing apparatus that Stafford's Fire & Rescue Department will order this month.

The $2.7 million purchase includes nearly 300 of the apparatuses, which includes spare air cylinders, harnesses, regulators, face masks and the pack trackers.

The Stafford Board of Supervisors approved buying the replacement equipment at Tuesday's meeting, before price increases go into effect in the new year.

Last time the units were replaced, they were phased in over several years. But having a mix of different models created problems in the county. They couldn't be rotated or used between stations and slight differences between the units could lead to failure. Buying them all at once will reduce such problems. Masks will also be fitted to individual firefighters, using a "smoke test" to ensure an airtight seal.

Acting Fire Chief Mark Lockhart said he'd order the equipment as soon as possible. They could be put in use at the beginning of the summer, after career and volunteer units get fitted and trained on the devices that are an updated version of what's in use now.

"It's not so different it'll take us weeks and weeks of training," Lockhart said.

The purchase was budgeted in this year's Capital Improvement Plan with funding through the county's Master Lease. Debt service will be $586,108 annually for five years.

Current standards from the National Fire Protection Association also require SCBAs to have greater flame and heat tolerance, as well as the ability to be underwater for up to three hours. The association requires compressed air cylinders to be used for just 15 years--that means the county's will expire within one year.

The new packs are meant to increase safety with voice communication, in-mask air level indicators, tracking systems and louder alarms for when a firefighter is low on air or in distress.

Each firefighter will have a spare air tank for when his first one runs out of air at an emergency scene. Tanks hold enough air for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the situation and level of use. Extra one-hour tanks will be part of the pack tracker rapid intervention team bags, to be given to a firefighter in distress.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975
Email: kthisdell@freelancestar.com





Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.