By Jamie Thompson
Firefighters may have a new weapon in their arsenal — fire suppressing "grenades."
Over the past year, two innovative units have come on to the market aiming to aid suppression and provide added protection to firefighters, delivering a powerful aerosol agent to knock down fires.
"People we've talked to say these are now where thermal imaging cameras were a few years ago," said George A. Ciottone, senior vice president of sales at Fireaway LLC.
"At the moment it's a new concept but once more fire departments become aware of it, they will see how important it can be."
The Minnesota-based company produces the "First Responder," which weighs 1.5kg and contains 500 grams of a fire extinguishing agent that, when deployed, suppresses combustion and disrupts fire at the molecular level.
The First Responder is functionally similar to a smoke grenade, except it delivers an aerosol fire suppression agent called Stat-X. It is 10 times more effective then any halon replacement available on the market today, according to Ciottone. It is easily deployed by pulling the pin on the head, a modified mil spec fuse used on U.S. Army training grenades, and throwing the device into the fire area.
Meanwhile, the FIT-5 — which stands for fire interruption technology and is produced by Vancouver-based ARA Safety — packs an even more powerful punch, weighing 5kg and containing 3.5kg of flame retardant.
The FIT-5 is a red disc that almost resembles a land mine. Firefighters deploy it by pulling a cord and throwing it in the fire area.
The technology is based on the fire control systems introduced to replace halon extinguishing agents as they began to be phased out in the 1990s.
"What we did with the FIT-5 is basically say if the technology is good enough to protect computer server rooms then it should be good enough to make a firefighter's job safer and to prevent homes from excessive water damage when fires are fought," said Michael Gardiner, ARA Safety director of marketing. Range of scenarios
The device can be effectively deployed in range of scenarios, Gardiner said, including a wide variety of structure fires from incipient to fully involved.
They have proved particularly effective in basement fires, knocking down flames immediately, according to Gardiner.
Earlier this month, the FIT-5 was announced as the winner of a 2008 Best of What's New award from Popular Science magazine, being named as one of the top 10 innovations of the year in the "security" category.
"With a publication and award of this caliber recognizing the innovative features of the FIT-5, its potential to change the way firefighters fight fire is further solidified," Gardiner said.
"Within a number of years, this will become a tool that every fire department will own."
Ciottone said the First Responder is not intended to replace anything firefighters already use, but is an additional tool in their arsenal.
When firefighters are concerned about potential flashover down a hall when water is not yet available, Ciottone said, they can deploy the device ahead of them to eliminate some of the contributing factors to a flashover. In addition, he said it can aid firefighters in emergency egress situations by offering immediate suppression of a flame area.
"These are very effective and very portable and we think First Responder can save firefighter lives," he said.