Fire, smoke, aviation and survival
By: Ken Armstrong
It's difficult to believe few aviators protect themselves from the death threat feared most by pilots - fire. In fact, it's not the flames associated with fire that kills most aircrews but rather the smoke laden with toxins such as: benzene, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen chloride, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide. Although these and other chemicals are lethal, most victims are terminated by the "silent killer", carbon monoxide. Colorless, odorless and invisible, a concentration of less than one percent is fatal and it's produced in abundance during fires.
The proliferation of toxic chemicals in modern advanced materials results in carpets, wiring and linings that can only be called deadly when they are heated sufficiently to produce gases. Whether it's your home, a hotel, an airliner's cabin or your own cockpit, your chances of survival in a toxic environment are limited to only a few minutes. Approximately 15,000 victims die yearly in household fires in North America and more than 100,000 sustain injuries that can be life-limiting. Almost every one of these casualties could have avoided injury if they had early warning from a smoke detector and a smoke hood that would provide the means for an emergency escape through the fatal fumes. Unfortunately, many victims have dead batteries in their smoke detectors or have disabled them.
Moreover, many victims who hear the detector's early warning often panic and hyperventilate, thereby sucking in deadly doses of poisonous gases. As a result, 94% of fire victims are deceased by the time help arrives. Three quarters of these are killed by smoke inhalation. Smoke is the enemy!
As a young RCAF pilot trainee, I saw my roommate and his instructor perish in an aircraft fire and have always tried to stack the deck against a similar fate.
HIDDEN RISKS THAT WILL SURPRISE YOU
Airliners are the one category of aircraft I don't pilot and therefore wasn't aware of some of the life threatening risks. I figured the oxygen masks would drop down to save my life whenever a cabin fire threatened my fellow passengers. Recently I learned airline pilots are instructed not to release the masks when the risk of an oxygen-fed fire would exacerbate the situation. Moreover, these masks are useless against combustion's poisonous gases! The "Mickey Mouse" dixie-cup shaped masks have openings in them to mix the cabin air with the oxygen supply thereby allowing a direct route for lethal gases to reach your lungs. Do airlines know this? You bet. So why don't they provide a protective smoke hood that could save your life? Well, their official stand is that it would be too difficult to don the hood in an emergency.
The Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants support the use of smoke hoods for air crews. It is hoped that the airlines will eventually conclude that the lives of their passengers should not be determined by cost/benefit analysis. Nonetheless, I'm not prepared to wait for the airlines to decide my life is worth a small investment.
I have never felt more strongly about owning a product than I do about an emergency escape smoke hood. Oh sure I love my GPS receiver, Zurich sunglasses and Vertech watch, but these items don't have the ability to save the lives of my family.
For many years I have chosen airline seat positions and hotel rooms to enhance my survivability in case of fire. However, purchasing pop-can sized EVAC-U8 air purifying respirators is the most significant undertaking I have made to ensure the longevity of myself and my loved ones. After considerable research on this topic, I reluctantly decided not to convince you of the importance of smoke hoods by painting a hideous picture or corpses after a fire or the trauma involved in death by smoke inhalation. Instead, I will assume readers are intelligent enough and well motivated to read on to learn why they need this protection.
There have been a number of effective smoke hoods available for years at prices ranging from two to three times that of the EVAC-U8. However, the technological advances of this Canadian unit are so significant and numerous that they defy the scope of this article. Suffice to say, I toured the quality assurance controlled factory over a two hour period, read testimonials from fire suppression experts, and looked at many videotapes over the last two years to reach my conclusions on the need to be prepared for a fire. After the installation of smoke detectors in your house, the next most important investment in life is the EVAC-U8 emergency escape smoke hood. The small, lightweight (300 grams) unit is portable, easy to use, affordable and extremely effective against poisonous gases and smoke particulates.
I also recommend a powerful flashlight, knowledge of your escape routes (your bedroom, hotel, airliner cabin etc.) wherever you may be. Remember, a fire isn't normally a brightly-illuminated event, but rather a black, choking, blinding shroud of death. You will need all the help you can muster.
AIR YOU CAN LIVE WITH
I was first attracted to the EVAC-U8 at the world's Fire Expo '97 when a man wearing this smoke hood directed a flaming torch at the see-through Polyamide hood without any damage (don't try this with the much more expensive units provided by competitors) Turns out the hood was made of Dupont's space-age material called Kapton, a material capable of protecting one's head from an incredible 422C. Although this wonder material can stop flames and heat, it still allows the user full vision and hearing to ensure you have the ability to escape a fire. The Kapton hood's prime purpose is to protect you from flash and transient flames that are prevalent with some types of fire.
However, the real magic of this smoke hood is the canister's multi-element filtration system that stops micron-sized soot particles with electrostatically-charged fibers, toxic acid gases with military-spec activated carbon that is metal oxide impregnated and "Zeolite" and then converts the deadly carbon monoxide into relatively harmless carbon dioxide as it passes through a "hopcalite" catalyst. This exothermic chemical reaction that oxidizes CO creates some heat that will be noticeable during use, and the filter elements will create some backpressure, however this can be beneficial to reduce the likelihood of hyperventilation.
This respirator does not have an air or oxygen source for survival in areas devoid of oxygen. What it does do is provide purified air for at least 20 minutes to allow you and your loved ones to escape the fire or source of smoke. The smoke hood comes sealed in its own hermetically sealed container that is roughly equivalent to a Coke can. The unit must remain sealed prior to use as the intrusion of moisture will render the CO catalyst filter inoperable. When one encounters smoke and its byproducts, simply twist off the cap (it opens both directions) and the smoke hood and mouthpiece will pop out. Open the hood, place mouthpiece between lips, clip on nosepiece, pull drawstrings of the hood to seal out toxins and breathe fully and slowly.
Normal fire escape techniques such as checking doors for heat before opening, crawling along the floor to avoid heat that will crisp your lungs at any temperature above 65C and feeling your way to the closest exit will ensure that you will live to receive a replacement unit at no cost (just a few minutes to write a testimonial).
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE WORTH?
Is your life worth $69.95? How about the lives of your loved ones? This smoke hood/respirator is the cheapest fire insurance I am aware of (assuming you already have smoke detectors). Telling you about this device is the most important article I have ever written. Saving one life or avoiding the pain and suffering of permanent damage for one reader makes all the research more than worthwhile to me. For more information contact:
Brookdale International Systems Inc.
1-8755 Ash Street, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6P 6T3
TEL: 1-800-459-3822 or (604) 324-3822
FAX: (604) 324-3821
http://www.evac-u8.com Email: email@example.com
Ken Armstrong is a rotary wing test pilot with 8,500 hours on dozens of U.S., French, Russian and homebuilt helicopters who was recently awarded The Canadian Aviation Safety Award for his written contributions.
NOTE: Reviews and Opinions do not necessarily represent those of Landings, its
personnel and employees.