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Real-Time Particulate Monitoring - Detecting Respiratory Threats for First Responders: Workshop Proceedings



Rodney A. Bryant, Kathryn M. Butler, R Vettori, P Greenberg


The overhaul of a fire scene is a stage of firefighting where respiratory protection is often disregarded due to the perception of low risk and the desire to remove the heavy and cumbersome self-contained breathing apparatus. The need for alternative options for respiratory protection that are fitted to the task and environment has been voiced by the firefighter community. Choosing the appropriate respiratory protection for individual events can only be accomplished with real-time information about the exposure hazards. Hand-held direct-reading particulate detectors have been used in other environmental monitoring applications, and it may be possible to transfer the technology to meet the needs of the firefighter. The Department of Homeland Security sponsored a workshop on Real-Time Particulate Monitoring at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on 3-4 May 2007. This workshop brought together members of the fire service, particulate detector manufacturers, public health professionals, airborne particulate researchers, and standards organizations to discuss the need for better technology to assess the level of respiratory protection required for environments encountered by first responders. The program included speakers who presented information on the characterization of respiratory threats during fire overhaul and the need for respiratory protection, performance needs and priorities for the fire service application, and state-of-the-art and recent developments in particulate detection. The perspectives of the first responder and firefighting communities were seen as essential and measures were taken to incorporate their point of view, knowledge and experience into the discussion. Following the presentations, attendees divided into three breakout sessions, and each group responded to a predetermined set of questions related to the following topics: Research Needs, Performance Criteria, Standards, and Technological Advances. The consensus among workshop participants was that additional research is needed to better understand the health effects of particulates on firefighters, to better characterize the particulates present during overhaul, and to better characterize the response of particulate detectors to the overhaul environment. Defining performance criteria to address first responder needs regarding data telemetry and logging, instrument operation and data interpretation, and the physical performance of the instrument were also areas of consensus. The group felt that developing standards for the physical performance of the instrument was important and that data telemetry and logging would benefit from developing technology. The consensus resulting from workshop discussions is expected to provide a strong foundation for the development of new tools to aid firefighters in selecting the appropriate respiratory protection, standard testing protocols to insure that equipment meets the needs of first responders, and performance criteria that allow industry to adapt the technology to the specific need and improve upon the technology where necessary.
Science and Technology Directorate


fire fighting, fire overhaul, first responder, particulate detector, respiratory protection


Bryant, R. , Butler, K. , Vettori, R. and Greenberg, P. (2007), Real-Time Particulate Monitoring - Detecting Respiratory Threats for First Responders: Workshop Proceedings, Science and Technology Directorate, [online], (Accessed April 24, 2024)
Created December 1, 2007, Updated February 19, 2017