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Cool relief for first responders


A new personal cooling system for emergency responders working in encapsulated protective suits is the goal of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick) and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT).

The Institute and an Oklahoma State University (OSU) team are in partnership with Natick to improve protective clothing for police officers, firefighters and medical personnel responding to terrorist incidents.

The three-year, $3 million project will design and build a personal cooling system for work in areas affected by chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The overall objective is a wearable cooling system that will reduce the effects of heat stress on emergency responder performance.

The MIPT is a non-profit organization that sponsors research on equipment, training and procedures to help first responders prevent or respond to terrorism.

Gen. (Ret.) Dennis Reimer, MIPT director, said he knew about Natick’s capability in designing and testing military protective equipment and after some correspondence became “convinced” that the facility has the know-how that can be transferred to the first responder community.

“We at MIPT are extremely pleased to be associated with the professionals at Natick, and at our first year-in-progress review we saw how much we were able to leverage the experience and expertise of (the Soldier Systems Center),” Reimer said.

Some commercial personal cooling garments use ice packs inserts, which cool unevenly. Under this MIPT program, a new technology called adsorptive carbon-based cooling will be developed using a new kind of cooling system to solve these types of problems.

First responders
First responders answering calls with hazardous materials will get a new personal cooling system that lasts longer and cools evenly.

“Adsorptive carbon-based cooling is something we’re aware of, but we haven’t done research and development on it,” said Bill Haskell, technical program development manager for the National Protection Center at Natick. “This project is investigating a technology the Army could leverage for future warrior systems.”

The portable, integrated cooling system will include a liquid-circulating garment developed at Natick and be powered by a battery for a one-hour mission. Average body heat dissipation is pegged at 200 watts in an 80-degree F environment.

Haskell is serving as the technical program manager for MIPT for the project, providing a link with the Army’s protective clothing research program. Although not involved in actual research and development, Natick is acting as a consultant. The successful development of protective clothing directly benefits the emergency response community and the military.

“(Natick) can do these type of projects for organizations outside the military,” Haskell said. “We’re leveraging expertise and equipment from the Soldier Systems Center.”

The National Protection Center will provide data and expertise related to thermoelectric cooling, electrolyte materials and materials flammability to the Protective Clothing Project investigators. Natick has in-house scientific, engineering and program management expertise in the area of protective clothing development.

“We have meetings every few months to tell them what looks good, what looks bad as they move the project along,” said Walter Teal, a chemical engineer with Natick’s Chemical Technology Team. Teal has been working on microclimate cooling systems for nearly 15 years.

Dr. Donna Branson at OSU heads the Protective Clothing Project contractor team, with support from Sciperio Inc., SRI International, Inc., MesoSystems Technology, Inc., and Nanopore Inc., and faculty at OSU, Johns Hopkins University and Clemson University. Funding is being provided by MIPT through the National Institute of Justice.

“Today’s (weapons of mass destruction) suits are bulky, heavy and hot,” said Branson. “Our research will make a protective system that will be thinner, lighter and cooler than the current systems, and that will increase the effectiveness of responders.”

A prototype cooling system is scheduled to be ready by April 2003.


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