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Ind. fire chief invents Methbuster to disarm labs

‘There has to be a safer way than holding a tank of anhydrous down in the water’

By Arek Sarkissian II
Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The only device Vanderburgh County firefighters have had to empty an anhydrous ammonia tank at a methamphetamine lab scene was a drum full of water and plenty of experience from for trial-and-error — and injury.

Now, thanks to Perry Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jerry Bulger, there is the Methbuster.

The bright red device is a sealed chamber that can hold a vessel of anhydrous. The chamber is partially filled with water using a fire hose. A firefighter then can manipulate the anhydrous container using gloves attached through the wall of the chamber while watching through a glass window.

The device is a lot safer than the old way of doing things, Bulger said. A firefighter decked out in the jacket, pants, mask, a pair of gloves and helmet normally worn while fighting a blaze would turn a tank of anhydrous upside down in the 55-gallon drum and allow it to empty. The cold anhydrous gas would injure firefighters. It also left gear covered with contaminants, Bulger said.

“So, I got thinking, ‘There has to be a safer way than holding a tank of anhydrous down in the water,’” he said.

The Methbuster was built using supplies from Lin-Gas, Deig Brothers Construction and SABIC Innovative Plastic. The tools and shop time were donated by the University of Southern Indiana. For the second year in a row, Vanderburgh County recorded the highest number of meth cases in Indiana, with 116 reported. There were 95 cases reported in Vanderburgh County in 2010, according to Indiana State Police officials.

At least 74 percent of all meth cases reported last year were one-pot labs, which use first-aid cold compress packs to generate the ammonia needed to help re-fine the cold medication, pseudoephedrine.

Meth manufacturing using anhydrous ammonia, which normally is found on farms, is not as popular anymore, but rural communities still see it. “If I can save one guy from getting hurt, it was worth it,” Bulger said German Township Volunteer Fire Chief John Buckman III said in many cases, cooks will build a homemade valve that easily could fail when a firefighter tries to use it.

“I think Chief Bulger has created a piece of equipment that definitely should be copyrighted,” Buckman said. “Because once it gets out, people will want to steal the concept.”

Bulger said the Methbuster will be there for any first responder to use. “All they have to do is give us a call,” he said.

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