Gas Masks for Gases Met in Fires
That a fireman’s mask which will protect against all forms of smoke and chemical fumes will soon be commercially available as the result of the work of Government chemists is indicated in Technical Paper 248, “Gas masks for gases met in fighting fires,” by A. C. Fieldner, Sidney H. Katz, and Selwyne P. Kinney, just issued by the United States Bureau of Mines.
That the army gas mask gives excellent protection against smoke and the irritating and distasteful products of combustion, but will not protect against carbon monoxide atmospheres deficient in oxygen or atmospheres containing ammonia gas, is asserted by the authors. City firemen have been overcome while wearing army gas masks for fighting fires. Gas masks of the army type should not be used in mines after fires and explosions. Self-contained oxygen breathing apparatus should be used on such occasions.
The Bureau of Mines has tested and used many types of self-contained oxygen breathing apparatus in fighting mine fires and in rescuing miners trapped in poisonous gases resulting from fires or from explosions in mines. Similar devices have been used by city fire fighters but have never been considered entirely satisfactory owing, largely, to their weight, to the time necessary for adjusting them to wearers, and the constant care required to maintain the apparatus in good working condition. Hence there has long been need for a light, easily adjusted, and dependable breathing apparatus for protecting fire fighters from irritating and poisonous gases and smokes.
As a result of the war the gas mask, which uses a chemical filter for removing poisonous gases and fumes from air, has been developed to a high state of perfection. The mask used by the United States Army is capable of giving complete protection against all the deadly gases that have been met on the battle field, but it does not protect against all the gases or atmospheres encountered in mines and in the industries and in fire fighting.
Dangers From Gases
The dangers from gases that city firemen face and the need of standardized methods of protection against them have been emphasized by over-confidence in the capacity of the Army type of gas mask to protect the wearer against industrial gases, an assurance that has probably arisen because soldiers were taught that the United States Army gas mask would protect them against all the gases they might encounter. This statement, true for the battle field but not true for all industrial gases, including products of combustion, has been brought back by soldiers and spread generally among workers. Furthermore, city firemen and mine operators have been circularized with letters and advertisements of Army gas masks offered for sale by certain persons who made unreserved statements, probably through ignorance, that the masks would protect wearers in mines and burning buildings. The falsity of these statements was evident to the Bureau of Mines, which took steps immediately to notify the public that Army gas masks had serious limitations, especially when used in fire fighting or in any place where unusually heavy amounts of poisonous gas are present.
The work described in this paper was undertaken to obtain information regarding the use of the Army type of mask for fighting fires and for doing rescue work in mines and the mineral industries. Incidentally, the results may be of interest to city firemen, insurance underwriters, state officials, property owners, and others who are interested in protection of property from fire.
The investigations of chemists working under the direction of the Bureau of Mines and subsequently in the Chemical Warfare Service promise the early development of an absorbent for carbon monoxide which will admit of the manufacture of a combination canister which will protect against smoke, ammonia, carbon monoxide and practically all chemical fumes. When this is accomplished the firemen can be protected in any atmosphere where a safety lamp will burn. The Bureau of Mines will co-operate with city fire departments in determining the nature of gases found in fires and with manufacturers in approving suitable gas masks for fire fighting.
Copies of Technical Paper 248 may be obtained by applying to the Director of tlie Bureau of Mines, Washington, D. C.