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B.O.L.D.: The Future of Forcible Entry and Auto Extrication?

Issue 9 and Volume 16.

This is the first article about two young entrepreneurs and an innovative new tool known as the Beam of Life Device (B.O.L.D). Essentially, B.O.L.D. is “Star Wars meets the fire service.”

A couple of years ago, in a galaxy far far away … okay, not really. Seriously though, in 2009, two Ball State University students were offered the opportunity to take a M2M (Military to Market) project and see if it would fit commercially into the fire service, as a part of their business degree program. As John Benjamin and Adam Odgaard proudly walked the walk to receive their diplomas in May of 2011, they were preparing to unveil a “Light Saber” of sorts to the world.

The B.O.L.D. is a handheld, lithium-ion-battery-powered laser that can cut through thick steel in seconds. Although still in its prototype state, this device shows a great deal of promise for use within our industry.

Imagine being able to cut window security bars, steel doors and locks, to say nothing of being able to cut planes, trains, and automobiles with the swipe of a handheld laser device.

As I began research on this topic, and prior to meeting these two gentlemen in person, a number of questions came to mind about the feasibility of using such a device in the field. The following is an excerpt from one of the interviews I conducted with them:

Q: Can this device cut through multiple layers of different substrates at the same time, such as mild steel, boron, plastic, rubber, and fiberglass, that would all be found in the wadded up components of a vehicle accident?
A: During the testing, they were able to cut through a steel cable that was coated in rubber/plastic. We will be working on making another visit to Crane (a U.S. Military facility) in which we will bring various pillars of cars to have them cut for us. These pieces should have multiple layers of materials so [we’ll] have an industry-precise response during that time.

Q: What, if any, are the resultant gases created by cutting through the aforementioned materials? Are these gases toxic?
A: The laser does vaporize the materials it comes in contact with, but the device will be fitted with an air assist device to blow away debris and vapors. Just as if you were to burn plastic or rubber with fire, it would produce the same gases.

Q: With the focused energy of a laser, what is the acceptable proximity of its use to the victim and to the firefighters using it?
A: That will be determined by the device’s focal point, which will be decided after initial testing. For the energy that remains after the focal point, we are looking into materials used to cover the victim to avoid any retina damage. Also, firefighters operating the device will wear eye protection, similar to that of welders. B.O.L.D. Industries is also looking into other lasers that are eye-retina safe.

Q: Is there any concern about its use around combustible materials?
A: If the actual laser comes in direct contact with a combustible material, it will ignite it.

Q: Is the kurt (the resultant material created when cutting with a laser) vaporized, or is an inert gas used during the cutting to blow it out?
A: The air assist would blow the kurt vaporization away from the firefighter.

Q: [In an Auto Extrication scenario,] would the often difficult access to the part of the vehicle needing to be cut pose a challenge to using the B.O.L.D.?
A: The laser’s extreme portability allows a more precise, surgical-like cutting option that does not exist in [the likes of hydraulic rescue tool] products today.

Q: Understanding that the unit will use a lithium-ion battery for power, what is the projected time frame for use on a single charge, or roughly how many “cuts” might we expect to make?
A: One charge from the battery, which is six minutes, can cut 300 inches of ½-inch-thick steel. The batteries are replaceable, which will allow another firefighter to exchange batteries if more cutting time is needed.

Q: Will the unit need any ancillary support (chargers, power units, etc.) to operate in the field?
A: The batteries will be charged by an AC charger via a wall socket, which departments will be advised to do continuously back at the station. They will also be able to charge the batteries off of the truck.

Q: Will special eye protection be needed for the firefighters and patients involved in the use of the device?
A: Yes. One type that can be used is a YAG laser goggle. B.O.L.D. Industries intends to provide these for retail to our customers.

Q: Will the metal pieces being cut on the car be red hot after cutting? Will this be similar to what we would see after using a cutting torch?
A: It will create heat on the item being cut, but the level of heat depends on the item being cut. For instance, a very thick piece of metal will not be as hot as a thin piece because it dissipates the energy through the larger amount of material. If necessary, the hot item can easily be cooled with water.

As you can see, from the initial questions and answers listed above, Benjamin and Odgaard recognize that the B.O.L.D. has some hurdles to clear before making their product commercially available to the fire service. These young, talented entrepreneurs remain undaunted and very optimistic, as they have carried their collegiate project beyond the classroom and into the real world.

It was very refreshing to have met these two gentlemen at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) this year. As we traveled around the exhibition floor, they introduced themselves to members of the fire service and the fire-related products industry. They were met by many professionals with helpful attitudes and words of encouragement. As our time together at FDIC drew to a close and these two gentlemen prepared to leave the show, they shared with me that after meeting all of the great firefighters at FDIC, they could certainly understand why we call the fire service “The Brotherhood.”

In another article about the B.O.L.D., we’ll get into some of the nuts and bolts of the device itself and share the results of the product trials. In the meantime, the inventors encourage constructive input and questions from firefighters in the field. You can e-mail me at [email protected], and I will forward your comments/questions to the inventors.

CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He serves as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.

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