Device Under Question In Missouri Firefighter's Death

A device which might have saved the life of a Carthage, Mo., firefighter - had it been activated - is standard issue for members of the Pittsburg Fire Department.

Carthage firefighter Steve Fierro was killed during a blaze on Feb. 18 at the Bronc Busters Restaurant and Lounge north of Diamond, Mo. According to press reports after the tragedy, Fierro's firefighting coat was equipped with a personal alarm system, or PAS, but he reportedly had not turned the device on.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is reportedly examining Fierro's death.

Pittsburg Fire Chief Don Elmer said a PAS is a small device which is either worn on a firefighter's clothing or is attached to his air pack. If the firefighter does not move for longer than 30 seconds, the PAS will sound an alarm that alerts other firefighters that the firefighter is down.

The devices also emit a shrill alarm which can help fellow firefighters find a firefighter in a smoky room.

"Basically, it is a motion detector. If you get caught where you can't move, it is an alarm that goes off that will catch somebody's attention," Elmer said.

Elmer said the Pittsburg Fire Department has used the alarm systems for several years but employs both older and newer types of the device.

"The newer ones we have are built into our air packs," he said. He said the newer PAC models are attached to a rip cord which is then attached to the jump seat in a fire truck. When a firefighter grabs his air pack, the PAS is automatically turned on.

"Some of the older ones are the old manual type that you have to turn on," he said.

And, one of the older models appears to be the type of PAS Fierro was wearing at the time of his death. There has reportedly been discussion as to whether Fierro was also wearing a newer model of the PAS built into his air pack.

Elmer said, however, that Pittsburg firefighters only wear one PAS device.

"We have some of the new and some of the old that we use," he said.

Elmer said he's unsure whether the PAS devices have actually saved a Pittsburg firefighter's life.

"I don't think we have had a situation where it has actually saved a life, but we may just be lucky," he said. "But, we have not had a situation where we've had to go back in and rescue a firefighter."

Elmer said the PAS is just one of the safety devices firefighters use to help locate each other - and other people - during a fire. The department has three thermal imaging units that allow firefighters to locate sources of heat - including people and hot spots - during a fire.

"They let you see through the smoke and locate the fire and let you find your way around," Elmer said.

Fierro was also wearing a thermal imaging camera at the time of his death, but according to news reports, the cord for the camera had become tangled around a bar stool found near his body. However, officials said the stool was nothing that would have prevented Fierro from moving.

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