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  5. Minisode 4: Understanding What Responders Need

Understanding What Responders Need

TechSpeak The Bonus S&T Podcast

On this episode of Tech Speak, join S&T in Harbison State Forest, South Carolina, as we test a newly designed respirator tailored to help wildland firefighters breathe easier. These firefighters must travel light and work long days in remote conditions with little to no respiratory protection. They not only battle smoke, dust and flames, but also the hazardous respiratory risks that can come with it. Tune in to hear program manager Kimberli Jones-Holt explain how responder feedback helped shape the latest prototype of the Wildland Firefighter Respirator. And hear insights from test director Hasan Shahid from the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory as he walks through the test and evaluation exercise of this tech that will make a difference on the fire line.

Run time: 04:31
Release Date: December 28, 2022

Show Notes

Guests: S&T Program Manager Kimberli Jones-Holt and Test Director Hasan Shahid from the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory.

[00:00:00] Darius Piwko: I had to stop midway, run back out and catch my breath. And again, I was just like crying, coughing and I knew I had to get through it because the fire on the other side that spotted over, I don't know where it was going, if it was gonna cause an issue for my guys down below, so I had to catch my breath and then just run and push as fast, as hard as I can to get through that thick smoke. Once I got on the other side, I'm just, same thing, coughing, hacking, trying to catch my breath, to notify my supervisor.  

[00:00:27] Dave: Welcome to Tech Speak, a mini episode of the Technologically Speaking podcast. I'm Dave, sound editor with S&T. In this episode, we're highlighting the Wildland Firefighter Respirator to help wildland firefighters breathe easier. that was Lieutenant Darius Piwko, with the Fairmount Colorado Fire Protection District. The challenge he described is why S&T Field tested a respirator with active-duty wildland firefighters at Harbison State Forest in South Carolina. This spring, S&T's National Urban Security Technology Laboratory led the operational field assessment where we talked with Test Director Hasan Shahid as he prepared for the day.

[00:01:01] Hasan Shahid: During the OFA, we'll have eight evaluators actually wearing the respirator and conducting job tasks that are related to wildfire responses. We're gonna have evaluators digging a fire line, which is a trench intended to stop the spread of the fire. We're gonna have them conduct a simulated search and rescue exercise. We'll have them do a hose drag and we'll have them deploy a fire shelter, which is intended to protect wildland firefighters if they're unable to escape from a fire. We'll also have data collectors recording feedback on the usability of this respirator. All that feedback is gonna go into a report.  

[00:01:38] Dave: This program and these tests are all about giving the wildland firefighters some respiratory protection, but the road to getting here started with understanding what responders need. While in South Carolina, we talked with S&T program manager, Kimberli Jones-Holt and senior engineer Drew Galloway from TDA Research Inc., the company that S&T worked with to build the wildland firefighter respirator.

[00:01:58] Kimberli Jones-Holt: We created a prototype only to receive feedback from the firefighter that said, no, that's not really what we want. That's not comfortable. It doesn't allow us the breathing capacity that we really need.

[00:02:11] Drew Galloway: Initially it was supposed to be a high-tech scarf. Early in the process, we discovered it's very difficult to make a non-powered air purifying respirator in the shape of a scarf.

[00:02:21] Dave: The scarf builds off of the bandana over the mouth and nose that you sometimes see wildland firefighters wearing. But as Doug Mills equipment manager for the South Carolina Forestry Commission summarized next, it's not always effective.

[00:02:34] Doug Mills: You know, it's just, we do it on a daily basis at times where we have heavy fire days and these guys, we're in it pretty much all day breathing that smoke and there's no protection from it. Just that cloth over our face, mainly.

[00:02:46] Dave: Here's Drew and Kimberli again on addressing the challenges of firefighters and improving prototypes ahead of the field test.

[00:02:53] Kimberly Jones-Holt: So, we listened to what they had to say, and back to the drawing board we went to design something that would be more suitable for their use and their environment, and I think what we have now, will more than exceed their expectations.

[00:03:07] Drew Galloway: We did make a few prototypes, and we took them out to evaluators and they came back to us, and they said, this is too hot. So, to solve the heat issue, we added a blower that would continuously blow filtered air to the user, and that kept them a lot cooler. And it, it basically removed any breathing resistance that the original scarf created.

[00:03:29] Dave: While in South Carolina, we also had some time with Jonathan Calore, Assistant Law Enforcement Chief with South Carolina Forestry Commission. We'll give him the last word on how this technology will help.

[00:03:39] Jonathan Calore: Looking at the wildland respirator, I can see lots of benefits in this for our employees. For a long time, there's always been, respiratory devices for our structural firefighters and that kind of stuff, and there wasn't a whole lot about wildland smoke, having carcinogens and having, have things in it that can cause long-term effects, for our firefighters. And as time has gone by, we've progressed where we're actually recognizing that is something that's out there. So, I, see lots of benefit for this in the long run.

[00:04:09] Dave: I think we'll breathe easier knowing these first responders will breathe easier. This has been Tech Speak. You can learn more about the Wildland Firefighter Respirator and our field test on S&T's website and by following us on social media at DHS SciTech DHS S C I T E C H. Thanks for listening. Bye.

Last Updated: 04/01/2024
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