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Research / Discovery

Engineering professors obtain $917,000 grant to improve firefighter gear

October 13, 2009

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has awarded a group of Colorado State University engineering professors a $917,000 grant to help reduce the heat stress firefighters experience wearing heavy, fireproof suits.

Terry Gier, manager of Niwot Technologies, displays the prototype airpack, known as SCAMP.

Cool firefighters as they work

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, has developed a prototype product called the SuperCritical Air Mobility Pack, known as SCAMP, for NASA that uses cryogenic or extremely cold air to provide breathing air to firefighters in a thin, compact case.

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

Repeated heat stress is deadly

“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, 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.

“People generate about 600 watts of metabolic heat performing common firefighting tasks like climbing stairs and carrying heavy loads,” Bradley said. “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.”

Next generation of firefighter and HazMat airpacks

Bradley and his team are developing the next generation of firefighter and HazMat airpacks so that air supply and cooling lasts longer.

The development of the SCAMP toward the HazMat application will require:

Jake Renquist (from left), Nikki Dunlap, Joe Kennedy, and Andy Rodriguez are working to develop a design to improve the air pack's endurance and cooling function, to allow its commercial, civilian use.

Engineering students are key members of the project team working to improve the pack's endurance and cooling function.

  • research into manufacturing processes for thin-film thermoelectric cooling devices
  • improved system design
  • further development of the firefighter/machine interface

The project team includes CSU engineering seniors:

  • Nikki Dunlap
  • Joe Kennedy
  • Chris Record
  • Jake Renquist
  • Andy Rodriguez

“For a small company, the resources available by working with the university are immense,” said Terry Gier, manager of Niwot Technologies. “The students have ideas but don’t have the working world background yet. We can help the university to develop their expertise and to combine this research and development effort with student learning.”

Local firefighters to help in review and field testing

Poudre Fire Authority firefighters 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 John Mulligan, chief of the Poudre Fire Authority. “This is promising technology that addresses the personal protection concerns of the modern firefighter.”

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone: (970) 491-2336