Personal protection equipment for emergency preparedness

CarolinaFireJournal - Dr. Ronald F. DeMeo
Dr. Ronald F. DeMeo M.D., MBA
10/14/2010 -

Committed to improve emergency preparedness and safety, fire and rescue departments across the U.S. have continuously searched for new personal-protection equipment (PPE) that provides greater protection from an ever-growing list of nuclear, chemical, biological, radiological, bomb and ballistic threats as well as infrared radiation and heat. As a frequent lecturer at the world’s top security conferences, I have witnessed firsthand the archaic nature of the field of radiation protection and the need for fire and rescue departments to deploy practical solutions.

Historically, even health care workers in hospitals and medical clinics have lacked the right options to address their basic needs for adequate protection from X-rays and other sources of radiation associated with the daily delivery of health care. The same holds true for other professionals exposed to radiation, including everything from airline stewardesses to airport security personnel. It’s no wonder, then, that as the threat of nuclear and other attacks became more prevalent in recent years, fire departments have become increasingly concerned about ensuring they have access to the best-possible PPEs to protect their personnel and the public.


Advanced radiation-protection has always been a top concern, as there’s no shortage of evidence that exposure to ionizing radiation is dangerous for humans. The rays or particles cause dose-dependent damage to human tissues, meaning the greater the radiation, the greater the damage. Exposure risks also depend on the amount of time during which the body was exposed to radiation. The body can better tolerate small doses that add up over time to a certain level better than it can tolerate exposure to that same level all at one time.

The theory that adverse health effects may be caused by any dose, no matter how small, is not accurate. Although there may indeed be no absolutely safe dose, there do exist dosages that are considered acceptable for practical purposes and highly unlikely to produce any adverse health impacts.

All humans are exposed to radiation simply by living on this earth. This naturally occurring or “background” radiation comes from the radioactive decay of natural radioactive elements within the earth’s crust. In addition to this, other sources of radiation are part of the course of everyday life: dental or medical X rays, microwave radiation, luminous watch dials, color televisions, cosmic radiation, smoke alarms, exit signs. Every person’s dosage of radiation exposure grows cumulatively during his or her lifetime and is based on his or her continuous exposure to extremely small doses that come from this broad spectrum of sources.

All of us have “chronic exposure” (exposure that occurs during an extended period of time) radiation naturally and in the course of our daily lives. People working in the nuclear industry or use radiation sources in the course of their work receive additional exposure. While standards have been established to protect such workers from dangerous dosages of radiation, the standards tend to change (lower) as more is learned about the effects of radiation on the human body. The commonly accepted principle of “ALARA” (As Low As Reasonably Achievable), calls for all exposures to be kept to the standardized minimum. In addition, companies are required to take measures to reduce exposure risks if this can be accomplished at a reasonable cost. Occupational exposure is monitored by having employees wear film badges or “dosimeters” that measure their exposure levels. The readings are recorded and the cumulative doses tabulated. Increased awareness in recent years has motivated authorities to lower the maximum acceptable exposure level.

As indicated by the Uranium Institute, “Dose limits are considered to be the maximum acceptable exposure for an individual but they do not represent an acceptable level of exposure for a large number of individuals, or a level of exposure to which an individual can be repeatedly exposed.” Numerous international, federal and private organizations disagree about how much exposure is “unhealthy.” Some claim that any dose of ionizing radiation, no matter how small, can potentially cause cellular damage, while others say there is not enough evidence to support such claims. Despite this debate, they do agree on at least one point: that no single “standard” physiological reaction to specific levels of radiation exists. Simply put, some people can tolerate certain types of radiation better than others. People exposed to the same sources of “acute” (short-term) radiation can have all have very different physiological results later in life.

For fire and rescue personnel, as or other first responders, the issue has not only been to identify the best-possible radiation-protection solution, but also to find a way to address the wide variety of threats faced today, including traditional ballistics and bombs, as well as IEDs, RDDs, REDs and the ever-increasing nuclear and radiological threats.

Traditional technologies and armor have provided protection against some, but not all, threats. This means personnel have had to choose what type of gear to deploy based on the particular emergency at hand. But as the threat of more advanced weapons and multiple threats became more prevalent in recent years, fire and rescue departments have recognized a need for more advanced solutions capable of handling multiple threats with greater efficiency.

The City of New York Fire Department (FDNY) is on the leading edge of a growing number of fire departments nationwide deploying new technologies that provide the highest level of protection available today. FDNY recently announced its selection of Demron to provide greater safety for its firefighters and the public. Demron, which has 12 national and international patents, provides total multi-hazard protection and eliminates the guesswork by enabling users to deploy one technology to combat all types of threats, including traditional ballistics and bombs, as well as IEDs, RDDs, REDs as well as nuclear and radiological threats. It is the only material that provides total multi-hazard protection while shielding against infrared radiation and heat.

In response to growing threats, these new technological advances are coming at an ideal time when the nation’s focus is on the mitigation and protection against chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Fire and rescue chiefs agree that by providing greater protection and reducing radiation exposure, Demron increases the time that first responders may remain at a radioactive site. This means that fire and rescue departments can deploy fewer personnel to respond to these types of emergencies, resulting in significant savings in terms of resources and time, as well as significant gains in terms of efficiency and productivity.

FDNY worked with manufacturer Radiation Shield Technologies (RST) to custom-develop the new Demron Crew Protection Blanket, a flame- and acid-resistant blanket that helps contain blasts and high-energy radiation sources and can help prevent or minimize catastrophes. The blanket proved in tests by H.P. White Laboratory to provide Level IIIA ballistic protection and the highest fragmentation protection. FDNY selected the Crew Protection Blanket because it provides complete nuclear shielding for first responders and may also be used to transport radiation victims without contaminating others.

The shield, which is ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 13485:2003 certified, is continuously inspected and tested at independent facilities to ensure compliance with the NIJ Standard 0108.01 for Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials. It is manufactured with RST’s patented Demron-W fabric, which is NFPA Class 2 Certified for the 1994-2007 Standard on Protective Ensembles for First Responders to CBRN Terrorism Incidents.

Until the introduction of Demron, there had not been one multi-hazard solution. Current PPE’s only offer low-energy alpha protection without X-ray, Gamma or high Beta protection. They allow heat stress to occur, seriously inhibiting operations among first responders. In fact, FDNY has incorporated Demron in its chemical protective clothing (CPC) upgrade program to enhance its response capabilities with universal protection. Hazardous Materials Company 1, one of the first FDNY teams to deploy Demron, is using RST’s Demron Two-Ply Radiation Torso Vest, Demron-W High Energy Nuclear/Ballistic IED RDD RED Shield, and Crew Protection Blanket. These technologies maximize safety while minimizing the time, manpower and resources required to respond to potential emergencies.

FDNY and other fire and rescue departments nationwide deserve credit for staying on the leading edge of hazmat and support for their mission to provide the best protection for their personnel and the public. In today’s ever-changing, uncertain world, it’s critical for all fire and rescue departments to remain abreast of the latest strategies and tactics to improve emergency preparedness, efficiency and safety. Those that do will continue to position themselves for success.

Ronald F. DeMeo, M.D., MBA, and president of Radiation Shield Technologies (RST), is the world-renowned surgeon, scientist, and researcher who invented Demron. The product line, manufactured at RST’s facilities in Miami, is continuously tested at independent facilities and at RST’s R&D facilities in Florida. More information is available at

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