Firefighters will breathe easier with new air packs

Jun. 28, 2014 @ 05:54 PM

Firefighters’ ability to do their jobs will soon get a boost when the department replaces its aging air packs with new ones that are less restrictive and more comfortable.

The Durham City Council has given preliminary approval for the Fire Department to buy 150 new packs, which let firefighters breathe while entering a burning structure.

Bids are expected the end of June, with a contract to be awarded soon after. The packs will be purchased in late summer.

“The ones we use now are only compliant with the 2002 National Fire Protection Association standard,” Deputy Chief Chris Iannuzzi said. “The standard was changed in 2007 and again in 2013. Additionally, we have had difficulty obtaining parts, and they have reached the end of their useful life.”

Air packs are tanks that firefighters wear on their backs, allowing them to breathe when entering a smoke-filled environment.

“When you go into a fire -- unlike in some TV shows and movies -- it’s pitch black, and there’s extremely thick smoke down to the floor,” Andy Sannipoli, assistant chief for planning and administration, said. “So that environment is not survivable without some way to breathe.”

The tanks are rated to hold air for 45 minutes, but in the real world, they often run out in 20 to 30 minutes as firefighters exert themselves. The department sends a mobile support truck to fire scenes with an air compressor and fill station, so firefighters always have a fresh tank.

The newest generation of air packs has a variety of upgrades.

“They fit better, the weight is better distributed and it takes less energy out of the firefighter,” Sannipoli said. “They’ve come a long way, and make the job a lot easier.”

Sannipoli said that because of how the new packs are made, firefighters are less likely to get tangled up.

“The new packs will let them move more freely and increase work time,” he said. “It will give them a better ability to do their jobs.”