Colorado State University engineering professors are using a $917,000 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant to develop technology that would protect firefighters' cardiovascular health and stave off heat stress. Researchers will use an existing device from Niwot Technologies that can cool firefighters and hazmat teams as they work, said Thomas Bradley, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

"What we are trying to do is develop firefighter equipment that addresses major health problems for firefighters which is heat stress," he said. "The protective [bunker] gear insulates them from the outside environment but also holds in their metabolic heat so what we are trying ways to remove the metabolic heat the body produces from the inside of the gear and getting it into the outside."

According to NFPA estimates, 43% of firefighter line-of-duty deaths are the result of cardiovascular failure. The work is strenuous, and firefighters are bogged down by apparatus and fireproof suits, Bradley said. In fact, he said people generate about 600 watts of metabolic heat performing common firefighting tasks like climbing stairs and carrying heavy loads.

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