The self-contained breathing units firefighters carry into burning buildings are heavy, bulky, and limited in capacity. So a team of former firefighters came up with an idea: What if they ran an air line through the firehose back to an air supply at the truck? With engineering assistance from LIFT - Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow, a Detroit-based public–private partnership, they created the Lifeline Firehose. Fire Chief Rodney VanDeCasteele of Grand Ledge, Michigan, explained what his firefighters have learned as the pilot department for the new hose.
As firefighters, one of the things we deal with is rescuing other firefighters in bad situations, especially if they get caught, trapped. Things can happen inside a building and it's very simple for firefighters, depending on the situation, to become disoriented. And they can run out of air.
With this new firehose, we can take a hose line in to the downed or trapped firefighter and provide them with air, instead of using an air pack. Normal air packs that firefighters wear will last 30 or 45 minutes. Our capacity right now on the truck is about an hour and 15 minutes with two people breathing on this system—but I can change an air bottle at any time without stopping the flow. So now what happens is if I have a firefighter in a building, and it’s going to take us a little bit of time to remove debris from around him, or to get him out of the building, we have an unlimited supply of air we can give to that firefighter. For the incident commander on the scene, it offers a little bit more security.
Since we’ve had this on the truck, since we have had the ability to play with it, we’ve found other uses for it. If we have a fire that we consider a defensive fire—nobody’s going in, but all the firefighters are sitting in the smoke while fighting it—they don’t have to wear a self-contained breather, all that heavy stuff. We don’t have to keep moving firefighters in and out, changing air bottles.
I think you'll always have both air packs and the Lifeline hose, but here's another thing you have to think about: Confined spaces. When we wear a tank to go into small spaces, it's tight to get into them. Instead we could take this style of hose with us and connect to it, to where we don't have our tanks on. The uses—the ways it could help us replace our tanks—could be endless. There's a lot of things we haven't even thought about right now that we could use it for.
In the year we’ve been using this thing, helping Lifeline work out glitches, we’ve been training with it and we’ve pulled it out on a couple scenes. We haven’t had to utilize it yet, but the policy of our department now is that when the first crew goes in, the backup crew grabs this line as a standby. My hope is that truck manufacturers get ahold of this and they start installing it on trucks. You could also have an air supply connection in buildings that firefighters could breathe off of. Hopefully, once this catches on for other departments, it’s going to be one of the newest revolutions in firefighting.
This story appears in the May 2019 issue of Seniorhelpline.