LARGO — Picture this scenario: A firefighter is making his way through a smoke-filled building, and he's so focused on fighting the blaze or finding survivors that he doesn't notice his air supply is running low.
The situation could be life-threatening.
But new equipment soon to be used in Largo will help change the dynamics of a job fraught with danger.
Largo Fire and Rescue bought 77 new air packs, along with face masks and additional equipment, with $277,200 awarded in April in an Assistance to Firefighters Grant, a Federal Emergency Management Agency program.
The new equipment includes tracking software that will send information from a firefighter's air pack to a computer in the district chief's vehicle. A supervisor who sees a firefighter's air running low will be able to remotely set off an alarm to call the person out of the building. The system will especially help in situations where a firefighter's ability to hear is compromised by the noise of crackling fire, high-pressure water hoses and falling debris.
The new equipment also includes an upgraded emergency alert system that sends off a louder alarm if a firefighter is stationary for too long. "It makes it way more audible," said Otto Sandleben, Largo fire division chief of training/safety.
Twelve Largo firefighters, along with supervisors, gathered Thursday to try out the new air packs. In the training session, firefighters were charged with finding a missing firefighter whose alarm was going off.
Firefighters are being trained on the new equipment throughout the month as the agency prepares to put it into use at the beginning of November.
"They've got to get used to it," Sandleben said.
Besides the added safety features, there are other advantages, said Largo fire Lt. Lance Michael, who participated in Thursday's training.
"They're a little bit lighter," he said, "and they're definitely more comfortable to wear for a longer period of time."
Rita Farlow can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.