Like a flash of lightning, fire shelter technology winds its way into the interesting news of today. When the devastating, interesting news of today came rushing out of Arizona after 19 firefighters had lost their lives in a wildfire, our focus turned to looking at the technologies that should have prevented their demise.
We used to think of wildfires as interesting news reports that were a consistent part of the summer heat waves striking the mountain and western states in the U.S., but that was before the human interest news turned tragic. The Yarnell, Arizona blaze became the single largest loss of firefighters since the September 11 tragedies and a bit of a mystery as investigators search for clues. For those of us watching the interesting news of today from afar, we cannot forget that the fire crews are fighting for the residents and their homes, and their own lives.
So how does the next wave of fire crews stay safe if they are suddenly entrapped by fire? Their last line of defense, after safe zones and escape routes disappear, is the fire shelter. And it is not always effective. While most of the Arizona 19 were able to deploy their fire shelters, it seems that the heat was just too intense or the conditions were to extreme.
So what is a fire shelter? It is a mini tent or shelter in the current interesting news that is made for someone to lay down, hide beneath and wait out the firestorm. You could think of it as a wrapper or burrito almost that shields the heat. Looking at it, you would not expect much. It packs up like a thick book into about a 5 lb. package, but it can be deployed in seconds to cover a firefighter and give them a chance at survival. In use, it becomes more blanket than tent, but its heat resistance means that firefighters can shelter in place as a fire storms overhead and the hot, poisonous gasses dissipate.
The fire shelter, that keeps popping up in interesting news today, is made of several layers of aluminum foil, silica foil and kevlar. This foil “sandwich” has two big jobs in protecting the firefighter. First, it blocks the radiant and convective heat from the surrounding fire. Second, the shelter provides a protective bubble of air that the firefighter can breathe. Typically, in these entrapment situations, the hot air and gasses would kill a firefighter from the inside before the flames would cause the fireman to perish. And hopefully next time around, the fire shelter becomes the savior those firemen needed.