Oct 252009

Three engineering professors at CSU have been awarded $917,000 in federal grant money to develop a breathing apparatus for firefighters and hazardous materials handlers that will reduce the heat stress that they experience while wearing their gear.

Engineering professors Thomas Bradley, Wade Troxell and John Williams, along with a team of senior engineering students, are teaming up with Niwot Technologies, a Longmont-based company specializing in research and development work, to improve their air pack prototype project SuperCritical Air Mobility Pack, or SCAMP. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the team the grant money.

After NASA expressed the need for a lighter and smaller air pack, Niwot created SCAMP, which uses cryogenics — extreme freezing temperatures — to chill the breathing air that is cased in a lightweight air pack. The air is then pumped through the firefighters’ or HazMat crew’s suits to reduce heat.

CSU is working to improve the pack’s endurance and cooling function. With the help of the grant, the team of engineers is planning to increase the one hour of air supply provided in the tank to provide four hours of air and cooling, something that cooling technologies cannot currently do.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 43 percent of line-of-duty deaths result from cardiovascular failure, which can be a result of recurring heat stress. With a built in cooling system, the hope is that these numbers will be reduced.

“People generate about 600 watts of metabolic heat performing common firefighting tasks like climbing stairs and carrying heavy loads,” Bradley said in a press release. “It feels like having 10 60-watt light bulbs under your coat. Firefighters have a dangerous job and their equipment should not make it worse.”

Terry Gier, manager of Niwot, said the new pack weighs less than an ordinary one-hour system and adds a cooling method. Other one-hour cooling packs weigh about 35 pounds when empty, while SCAMP only weighs 25 pounds.

Troxell said the air pack will improve the health, safety and longevity of people working in those kinds of conditions.

“The state of the art equipment used now is liquid air which is gravity based. It provides no cooling, and if someone falls over or passes out, since its gravity fed, the (air pack) no longer feeds oxygen.” Troxell said. “With this particular technology, it doesn’t matter the person’s position. And it combines in a compact package both body cooling and air for breathing.”

The project team is made up of engineering seniors Andrew Rodriguez, Nikki Dunlap, Chris Record, Jake Renquist and Joe Kennedy.

“This gives the students a good learning opportunity on a real project,” Hal Gier, operations manager for Niwot said. “It’s very helpful when they get out of college to have experience working with a firm.”

Poudre Fire Authority firefighters will aid in the design review and field testing of the air pack.

Staff writer Justyna Tomtas can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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