CSU Professors Obtain $917,000 Grant to Improve Firefighter Gear

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has awarded a group of Colorado State University engineering professors a $917,000 grant to help reduce heat stress for firefighters wearing heavy, fireproof suits through an innovative self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

Professors Thomas Bradley, Wade Troxell and John Williams are working with Niwot Technologies, a northern Colorado company, to develop a breathing apparatus for firefighters and hazardous materials workers that can cool them as they work.

Niwot Technologies, LLC, under its operations manager, Hal Gier, developed a prototype product called the SuperCritical Air Mobility Pack (SCAMP) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It uses cryogenic, or extremely cold, air to absorb heat from firefighters’ bodies while providing breathing air for them.

Colorado State will develop a design to improve the pack’s endurance and cooling function and to allow its commercial, civilian use.

“The National Fire Protection Association estimates that about 43 percent of line-of-duty deaths by firefighters are the result of cardiovascular failure, which can result from repeated heat stress,” said Bradley, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “Their heavy coats do a great job of isolating firefighters from the high temperatures associated with a fire, but meanwhile they’re roasting on the inside because there’s no way to get the heat out.”

He said people generate about 600 watts of metabolic heat while performing common firefighting tasks like climbing stairs and carrying heavy loads. “It feels like having ten 60-watt light bulbs under your coat,” he said. “Firefighters have a dangerous job and their equipment should not make it worse.”

Bradley and his team are working to develop the next generation of firefighter and hazmat airpacks so that air supply and cooling lasts longer. University officials said development of the SCAMP toward the hazmat application will require research into manufacturing processes for thin-film thermoelectric cooling devices, improved system design and further development of the firefighter/machine interface.

“For a small company, the resources available by working with the university are immense,” said Terry Gier, manager of Niwot Technologies. “We can help the university to develop their expertise and to combine this research and development effort with student learning.”

Firefighters with the Poudre Fire Authority in Fort Collins will help in the design review and field-testing of the airpack.

“We support this research as improvements in the technology of protective systems will result in improved safety for firefighters,” said Poudre Fire Authority Chief John Mulligan. “This is promising technology that addresses the personal protection concerns of the modern firefighter.”

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