By MARK TIGHE
When it comes to fireground training, creating a smoked-out environment can be a challenge. In some cases, the fire service uses industrial-grade smoke machines for this simulation, but they are costly to purchase and maintain. In even fewer cases, live burns are used, but they expose firefighters to the inherent health risks of an immediately dangerous to life or health environment. However, the most common method of creating a smoked-out environment is also the most rudimentary: shoving wax paper, plastic wrap, or a milk jug cutout in your face piece. We’ve all done that. Is there an easier and more cost-effective alternative? Yes.
The developers at Eclipse Fire Ground Solutions (FGS) have created a simple solution to a common problem with the Eclipse Blackout Mask. This easy-to-apply mask is fogged out in three levels, creating realistic heavy smoke conditions that you can use for safety and rescue, fireground search, and thermal imaging camera (TIC) training. The reusable, durable, static-cling sticker affixes to the mask exterior without leaving any residue or damaging expensive equipment. Easy-to-grip tabs allow firefighters to remove the mask quickly, even with gloves. The red and yellow outline ensures there is no risk of accidentally leaving the mask on when going on a call. The unique advantage to this mask is that it does not completely obstruct your vision.
Think about all the types of fires to which you’ve responded: unattended food fires, garage fires, smoldering electrical fires, and even attic fires. Although it was unlikely you could see clearly across the room during these fires, you still had a minimal field of vision; subtle shapes and signs of light were still visible and may have indicated the seat of the fire or even a window that could potentially be your only form of egress. Additionally, most firefighters use some form of flashlight to illuminate their path, even if that path is only a few inches in front of them in heavy smoke conditions. By using a traditional full blackout mask in training scenarios with zero visibility, you miss out on training your eyes to look for those subtle clues that can lead to your success and safety. This mask allows you to train on the TIC in heavy smoke conditions, a feature no other blackout mask on the market offers.
Eclipse Blackout Masks were devised by four San Diego, California, area firefighters from the same crew who have more than 40 years of combined firefighting experience and who wanted to create a hassle-free mask that better replicated smoky conditions for more effective in-service training. The entire Eclipse FGS team has a background in training that ranges from basic fire academy instructor to in-service training coordinator.
At first, their goal was simple: create a blackout mask that simplifies the age-old technique of cramming whatever material was readily available—such as wax paper or plastic wrap—in a face piece to create a more realistic, blacked-out environment. Initially, the Eclipse FGS team didn’t realize the huge impact a piece of equipment like this could have on the health of a firefighter; it effectively eradicates the exposure to cancer-causing toxins present in a live burn.
The Eclipse Blackout Mask is compatible with the following face piece models:
- AV3000 (Scott Safety).
- G1 Facepiece (MSA).
- Draeger FPS-7000.
- MSA Ultra Elite.
- Interspiro Spiromatic S8.
- Survivair/Honeywell 20/20.
We live in a day and age when cancer awareness in the fire service is a hot topic. Cancer has caused 61 percent of career firefighter line-of-duty deaths since 2002. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health research, the cancers mostly responsible for these deaths were respiratory (i.e., lung, mesothelioma), gastrointestinal tract (i.e., oral cavity, esophageal, large intestine), and kidney. Although not nearly as harmful as exposure to live burns, exposure to synthetic smoke of industrial-grade smoke machines has been known to cause respiratory airway irritation. The Eclipse Blackout Mask is the right product to combat these issues.
The Eclipse Blackout Mask is an innovative and cost-effective solution to a common fireground problem: the need for a blackout mask that does not completely obstruct your vision, allowing you to train your eyes to look for those vital clues that lead to success and safety in smoked-out conditions.
MARK TIGHE is a partner with Eclipse Fire Ground Solutions and an engineer for a San Diego, California, area fire department.