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Characterizing the Response of Direct-Reading Particulate Detectors for the Fire Overhaul Environment



Rodney A. Bryant, Paul Greenberg


Limited information exists on what respiratory threats are present in the fire overhaul environment. Hand-held direct-reading particulate detectors have long been used to monitor respiratory threats for industrial hygiene applications. Therefore, it may be possible to adapt this technology to meet the needs of the firefighter. The goal of the present work was to conduct a preliminary characterization of hand-held direct reading particulate detectors when exposed to the types of particulates anticipated in the fire overhaul environment, and to transfer the knowledge gained into recommendations for standards development and testing protocols specific to the needs of the first responder community. Four optical dust monitors, representative of those currently available on the market, were simultaneously exposed to smoke surrogates and smoke from burning materials to characterize their response. The response from the dust monitors was linear over the range of particle mass concentrations for current exposure threshold limits; however, the sensitivity varied with respect to the aerosol for some of the detectors. When exposed to smoke from burning materials, the response of the dust monitors did not adequately reflect the hazard present. Some burning materials produced very high particle number concentration, which could be a significant respiratory hazard. The dust monitors’ output was in terms of mass concentration and did not always indicate the presence of the hazard. Key recommendations for performance metrics and testing protocols include: 1) evaluating dust monitors to confirm a linear response of over the range of the current respiratory threshold limits; 2) using a condensation particle counter to generate a reference measurement of particle occurrence that is independent of particle characteristics such as size, shape, and refractive index; 3) using the cone calorimeter and standard test method ASTM E 1354-11a to generate real smoke particles.
Technical Note (NIST TN) - 1802
Report Number


fire overhaul, respiratory protection, particulate detection, aerosol detection, fire safety, first responder, firefighter


Bryant, R. and Greenberg, P. (2013), Characterizing the Response of Direct-Reading Particulate Detectors for the Fire Overhaul Environment, Technical Note (NIST TN), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed May 27, 2024)


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Created June 21, 2013, Updated November 10, 2018