Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opportunity Texts

I heard my phone ding, the sound filtering through the haze of an early dawn slumber. As overnight requests for photos will be either be e-mails or phone calls, I opted not to look at the message until after getting up an hour or so later.

After arising, scratching and relieving myself, I staggered over to my dresser and checked my phone. The text was from America's Fire Captain - Willie Wines. The message was simple, "call me when u get up".

Coffee waits for no one in my house, so after firing up the Keurig and brewing some joe, I gave Willie a buzz. Surprisingly,  he picked up. We usually play phone tag for several days before finally speaking with each other. He and Rhett "The Fire Critic" Fleitz were on the road, starting an epic road trip that would end up in Ohio.

Willie wanted to give me a heads up on a photo opportunity that was occurring that day, one that was not too far from the Schmoe crib. I had read about the event on the day prior while surfing The Fire Critic, and had thought about going. The call from Willie and the contact info of one of the principals sealed the deal, so I loaded the camera into El Cheepo Jeepo and hit the freeway.

The event was an objective test of photo-luminescent technology (PLT) as applied to the fire service.  PLT is the modern version of "Glow In The Dark"  technology, but is GREATLY improved. PLT has been playing an increasing role in emergency egress/exiting for a while and is exploding into fire service usage. The goal of the testing was to provide data on the amount of time required to perform certain tasks that are often performed on the fireground. One data set would be without the benefit of PLT, another would be with the benefit of PLT.  The products are being developed by a company called GlowZone Inc. and distributed by MN8-Foxfire. Other products are still in development.

Spatial disorientation is the bane of anyone who works in a visibly challenged environment, firefighters are not exempt. Visual references to other team members helps combat this issue. Accountability and the ability to visually track other team members are tactical goals that we strive to attain. PLT is a tool that can help with all of these issues and are reasons that these products are taking off. 

This isn't your daddy's PLT! 

 The testing was administered by Dave Hudson, a training captain with the Riverside County Fire Dept./Cal-Fire. You can READ THE DETAILS HERE, but the scenarios included a fire attack with victim rescue and a firefighter down rescue. All of the evolutions were live fire, using class A combustibles.

The testing occurred at the North-Net training facility in Anaheim, CA.

 It was a big deal, with a significant amount of effort spent getting the testing performed and documented properly.

Infra-red camera were placed at strategic locations in the tower.

As were digital video cameras. For you fellow camera geeks, these were Canon 5D MkIIs. I hope they were rentals, they took some heat.

All of the data was recorded and checked to make sure it was accurate. This spot was where the data was amassed and processed.

The first half of the day consisted of performing the designated tasks without the assistance of PLT equpped gear, turnouts or egress routes.

As the egress PLT aids were installed the day before, they had to be covered before the first phase of the testing.

I was happy and surprised to see some firefighters from my agency assisting with the testing. They work for a company that provides training to fire departments throughout the state and were hired to perform the evolutions in the testing process.

In the photo below, the rescuers are exiting the building, after rescuing a victim from a contents fire on the fourth floor.

The firefighter down evolution used a "real" victim, a firefighter from Riverside County/Cal-Fire.

Even though I know the image is that of an exercise, I find the image below disturbing.

It came out a little too "real" for my taste. Call me a sissy if you want to.

The series of "before" evolutions were performed and the times recorded. More subjective material such as the rescuers impressions were recorded as well.

Someone, I don't know who (thanks, to whoever it was) catered lunch. Like the rest of the day's events, it was well done.

 The afternoon session consisted of the same evolutions as the morning sessions, except that equipment and means of egress were equipped with PLT accessories.

One of the things that I like about this technology is that it has a tremendous number of uses and therefore can be applied to the purchaser's needs as budgets and other constraints allow. Some agencies might opt to purchase PLT tape and apply it to their tools and equipment. Some might purchase PLT epoxy coatings and apply it to equipment and others might have the resources to purchase equipment with PLT built in. Flexibility is king when it comes to this technology.

PLT impregnated  PPE trim is being developed as I write this.The very first sets of PLT trimmed turn-outs were un-boxed and used during this testing session.

These are FDNY turn-outs with PLT trim. I envision a future where fire departments will be able to order turn-outs to their existing specs and opt for PLT trim. 

Other products in use are slip-on air bottle covers, helmet bands and adhesive decals.

As I didn't have full structural PPE, my photos were limited to the stairwell on the first and second levels and to some demonstrations that were performed for the media. The results were the same, this stuff emits light where no other light exists!

I followed Billy up the stairs into the darkness. His PPE, SCBA bottle, helmet and tool are all illuminated.

In this shot, a firefighter is laying on the floor on the third story. He is clearly visible and it would be easy to determine his orientation to facilitate rescue.

The rescue is in progress and the fallen firefighter is being carried down the stairs. The rescuer in the front is equipped with a PLT helmet band and his tool is taped with PLT tape. Though not quite as effective as PLT trimmed PPE, it still does a remarkable job. 

I must say that I was impressed with this product and I like the direction that product development is going. I know some people who are field testing the products and they like what they are seeing. 

If you want more information on MN8-Foxfire products, IT CAN BE FOUND HERE. If you wish to shop for their products, They can be purchased at

This was a long post, fortunately most of it was in photos. Thanks to Wines for hooking me up with this and thanks to Zach over at MN8-Foxfire for letting me shoot the event. I had a blast.

Thanks to you for reading,


  1. That's some cool stuff. They've been putting it on the passenger rail cars where I work for a year or two now, lining the walkways, seat edges, and exit doors with it, and the decals that describe how to operate the emergency egress doors and windows are printed on that material. I wouldn't have thought it was temperature-resistant enough to use on turnout gear. Looks like another step in the right direction. Nice photos, too. :)

  2. Wow. Amazing stuff, Schmoe. You want firefighters to be safer. I want a wind-up alarm clock that glows in the dark well enough to actually read. We could both win from this.

    Except that wind-up alarm clocks are as dead as books and wired phones.

    Oh well. I'll settle for safer working conditions for y'all.

  3. Schmoe,

    Great read. One thing I have always wondered about the FDNY (and UK fire departments as well) is their use of black for their uniforms. All fire fighters in Australia, wear uniforms much similar to the California guys above (yellow). What is the advantage of black? Especially if standing on a road at night, I would imagine, even with reflectors or this new tech, it would be harder to see.

  4. NYEMT - I neglected to post a photo of the stairwells that were outfitted with PLT treads and PLT tape on the handrails. It was equally effective.

    Wayne - I think this new generation PLT stuff will wind up in applications that we have never even thought of.

    Rob - Good question, I wish I had an answer for you. We were discussing the same thing at the tower the other day, one person thought that it had something to do with contrasting colors being more visible. No one knew for sure.

    Thanks for the comments folks.

  5. It would be nice if it stayed aglow for more than 20 minutes outside a light source. We have the helmet bands and they work well when you go from sunlight into a dark area; however, at night is a different story. Just some real world experience for your info.