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Fire-breathing gear

September 06, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

RANSON, W.VA. - The Independent Fire Co. in Ranson is the first fire department in West Virginia and only the third volunteer fire department in the country to obtain a system that changes the way firefighters are able to work and breathe in a burning building.

Using a transmitter that a fire department member can monitor in a firetruck outside, the system allows fire officials to monitor the amount of air individual firefighters have while they are inside a burning building, said Independent Fire Co. Chief Ed Smith.

If an air pack becomes low, the person operating the transmitter in the firetruck can send an alarm to that firefighter, Smith said.

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With the department's old air packs, firefighters were responsible for monitoring their own air levels, Smith said.

They did so by periodically checking a gauge on the pack, and sometimes it was hard to see the gauge if smoke was thick, Smith said.

What fire officials worry about is a firefighter not realizing the oxygen has run out and becoming trapped.

"It's a great advantage as far as safety," Smith said of the system, which cost the department $109,000.

The system has several other advantages, including the ability to be hooked up to a laptop computer.

Looking at the computer screen, the transmitter operator in the firetruck will be able to see where every firefighter is inside a burning building and how much air each person has, Smith said.

The air packs worn by firefighters also have an alarm system in case a firefighter gets into trouble, said Lt. Tyree Kable.

If a firefighter "goes down" and does not move in 20 seconds, a whirling signal emits from the air pack, Kable said. The alarm also is sent back to the transmitter operator.

If there is no response, the alarm goes into a screaming mode, Kable said.

With the old air pack system, firefighters had an emergency alarm, but it could become muffled if a firefighter fell on it, Smith said.

The system includes two transmitters for the fire department's two engines, 22 air packs and spare air bottles, Smith said.

The system was paid for through bingo revenues and donations, Smith said.

"We wanted to stay on top of the technology," Smith said.

Although about 100 firefighters are killed in the United States every year from accidents such as running out of air, there have been no deaths in Jefferson County related to air-supply problems, Smith said.

Smith said that is a good track record considering local firefighters respond to about 500 fire calls a year in the growing community.

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