N.Y. Lawmaker Says Safety Device is Harming Firefighters

October 10, 2007

A New York lawmaker is urging rigorous federal testing of a safety device linked to firefighter deaths and injuries.

Sen. Charles Schumer said that the device, called a Personal Alert Safety System, or PASS, was used by a New York City firefighter killed in December 2003, as well as by an upstate firefighter critically injured last April.

Schumer said about 15 firefighters have died nationwide over the past decade when their PASS devices failed.

In the New York City incident, it took 30 minutes for colleagues to find firefighter Thomas Brick during a mattress warehouse fire. His PASS alarm was emitting a very low sound and may have had an electrical short, the senator said.

Brick’s death “was the first in which our investigators had direct evidence that typical exposure to heat at the scene of a fire might adversely affect a PASS device,” said Dawn Castillo of the federal Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.

PASS is a motion sensor, designed to repeatedly flash a light and emit a high-pitched noise if a firefighter stops moving.

Oneida firefighter Mitch Dryer lost his arm in a roof collapse. His chief, Don Hudson, has said PASS alarms have been known to malfunction when wet or when temperatures climb above 300 degrees Fahrenheit — “two conditions we’re in all the time.”

An estimated million U.S. firefighters use PASS, including tens of thousands in New York, Schumer said.

Schumer said the National Fire Protection Association documented flaws and issued higher standards for future devices, but did not offer plans for testing devices currently in the field.

The alarms cost about $200, he said, but they are usually integrated into a $3,000 breathing apparatus which lasts up to 20 years.

Schumer said the United States Fire Administration should lead a coordinated inspection effort of new devices with the National Institute for Operational Safety and Health and the National Institute of Science and Technology.

A coalition led by the National Fire Protection Association should inspect all current devices, he said, and manufacturers should quickly produce updated ones.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.