The Role of Chemistry in History

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The Good, The Bad, and the “Burny”

April 28th, 2008 · No Comments ·

PBI Intro| Structure | Uses | The good the bad and the burny|History|

PBI’s use in the fire service has not been without its critics. Many older firefighters believe that the reason the number of firefighters killed each year is continuously rising is because of how good the gear works.

Back when firefighters only had a beard to protect their face, and a long rubber coat, it was rare to enter a burning building unless it was obvious that someone could be saved. Today with all the advances in gear, we go into buildings that we have no reason to go into and often stay in way to long. Before when you felt heat on your body it meant it was time to get out, today with PBI gear by the time you feel heat and pain, its too late, you’re going to get burnt or killed.

Fire on roberts Valley

This is a fire in Susquehanna Township, outside of Harrisburg City. When we arrived on scene fire was blowing out of almost all the windows and all the floors. This picture was taken about 10 minutes into the operations when everything in the house had been destroyed. Todays modern firefighting practices, in no small part becuase of PBI, lead firefighters to these aggressive attacks. There was no one inside the house, and almost nothing to be saved, but we still made an agressive interrior attack. Several firefighters had minor injuries including Dickinson College Student Alex Hallman ’08 who fell from the top floor into the basement, he was not hurt.

The negative is not without the good. Had the firefighters tried to make an aggressive attack in the old style of gear they would not have been able to, and had there been someone inside many firefighters would have been burnt or worse.

This is a prime example of PBI gear allowing firefighters to “push the limit” and enter a structure they should not have entered. Another problem with PBI gear is that it works well to keep heat out, but also to keep heat in. Once the heat penetrates the suit, its in there and essentially cooks the person wearing it like they were in an oven. One way firefighters release the heat is by doing the “pain dance”. It looks like they are flapping little chicken wings, but it is meant to open up the neck of the suit allowing heat to be released and spread out, instead of just burning one area it makes a pins and needles feeling across the body, usually the back, chest and arms.

Tags: Polybenzimidazole