In the wake of the disastrous bushfires that devastated so much of our country, questions are being asked whether our volunteers were kitted out with adequate respiratory equipment. The purpose of this article is not to wade into that debate, but talk about the different types of respiratory equipment that are available and what they are best suited to.
It’s not only firefighters who were exposed to dangerous levels of smoke and ash. Everybody in the affected areas is exposed to some level of smoke inhalation. Perhaps some form of respiratory equipment should be kept in every household, especially for people who are vulnerable to harm from smoke inhalation, especially the very old and very young.
A big part of Zokal’s business for the last 40 years has involved supplying and servicing respiratory equipment, including equipment for divers, for miners and people working in confined spaces where they could be exposed to toxic gasses.
To recommend equipment best suited for bushfires, it’s important to understand the nature of the fires and the contaminants. Smoke is made up of a combination of gasses and vapors, along with suspended particles. The smoke can often include gases which are irritants like hydrogen chloride and acrolein. While fires burning trees don’t contain toxic gasses, they do contain low levels of organic vapours or irritant acid gases which can be extremely irritable to many people. Fires burning homes on the other hand do contain toxic gasses and firefighters are often exposed to these gasses when trying to save homes that have caught fire. Residents can also be exposed to these toxic gasses when trying to save homes.
Respirators for Bushfires
The only equipment that will really protect you from all the possible contaminants from bushfires is SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus). This equipment is used by metropolitan fire fighters because they never know what kinds of gases they will be exposed to in buildings they have to enter.
In a bushfire situation, however, SCBA gear is not that practical. The cylinders are heavy and they don’t last long enough. Getting enough cylinders out to firefighters in the field and keeping them refilled can be a logistical nightmare.
The next best thing is an air filtering respirator.
Air Filtering Respirators for Bushfires
For firefighters who are not working in confined areas where they’ll be exposed to lethal atmospheres such as high levels of carbon monoxide or oxygen deficient conditions, air filtering respirators are a workable solution.
The light and comfortable 3M™ P2 Disposable Respirators 9320, P2 and 9322, P2 are ideal for blocking out the particles suspended in the smoke.
When irritation is also a problem because the fire is producing low levels of organic vapours or irritant acid gases, Disposable Respirators 8514, P2 and 9926, P2 should be used. These masks will capture both the smoke particles and some of these gasses, significantly reducing irritation from smoke inhalation.
For better protection the more durable half face masks like the 3M™ 6000 or 7500 series and 3M™ Full Face Respirator 6800 can be used with a variety of filters for different applications.
Only SCBA equipment gives you complete protection from contaminants in smoke, but there are a variety of air filtering respirators available for different situations, with different levels of protection.