Wildland firefighters often wear either a disposable or half face respi-rator. In 1994, the best protection available for the exposed area around that respirator was a simple bandana, said Bert Rivera of Hot Shield USA.
"Unfortunately, the bandanas were catching fire from flying embers," he said.
Rivera himself is a firefighter with the Glendale (CA) Fire Department for 19 years. In one case that Rivera is personally familiar with, several Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters over run by a wildfire suffered severe facial burns that required multiple surgeries. The solution was a thermal resistant housing or shield fitted around the respirator.
Hot Shield USA was born.
Hot Shield is the world's first patented dual function, multi-layered facemask designed by firefighters specifically for wildland fire fighting. It is the only brush fire facemask proven to protect major portions of the face and neck from burning sparks, embers and even direct flames of up to 1,000 degrees F. It also provides protection for the firefighter's respiratory tract through a combination of physical barriers.
"This is both a low tech and high tech product," Rivera said. "It's made of a carbon fiber fabric and has a pocket to insert a disposable filter respirator, like an N95. It's one-size-fits-all with Velcro around the back. It won't give you a cold drink on a hot day, but basically it stops most of the smoke and can take direct flame impingment without burning your face."
Hot Shield provides for a comfortable and protective airspace between the face and mouth. It physically blocks much of the smoke and ash particulate through the use of a fire resistant mesh fabric and disposable filter.
No fit testing is required for its use. Hot Shield can be donned either before or after donning a helmet. It can be used with a conventional shroud or a Hot Shield Ultra Shroud also made from carbon fiber and designed specifically for use with the Hot Shield. Low profile goggles with some type of foam seal work best with Hot Shield.
The product is machine washable and has a durability of years, Rivera said.
"We have guys call us about their masks and we ask what date is printed on it," he said. "Their reply is the mask is so worn they can't read the date. I ask them to describe it and it turns out to be one we made in 1994 or 1995. Basically, because it doesn't get the abuse of a turnout coat, it's going to last quite a while. If it does get damaged, we make repairs."
Since 1994 less than 15 Hot Shields have been returned to the manufacturer, Rivera said. Among Hot Shield's distributors are W.S. Darley & Co.
Hot Shield is finding new uses beyond wildland fire fighting. Hot Shield has created a version for use with half face respirators more common in industrial settings such as Draeger and Sundstrom respirators , Rivera said.
"It protects the equipment and the wearer's face from radiant heat, regardless of the source -- even molten," Rivera said. "It also protects from direct flame." Industrial use does require fit testing.
Scars from burns on most of the body are ordinarily hidden from view. However, facial burns are visible to everyone, Rivera said.
"If I got burned on the arm I could wear a long-sleeve shirt and cover it up," he said. "If I get burned on the face I carry that around with me everywhere I go. People shrink away from you. You have to look at it yourself every day in the mirror when you shave. That what motivated us to find this solution."