Colorado State University Engineering Professors Obtain $917,000 Grant to Improve Firefighter Gear

Note to Reporters: Photos of Professor Thomas Bradley and his students are available with the news release at

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has awarded a group of Colorado State University engineering professors a $917,000 grant to help reduce the heat stress firefighters experience wearing heavy, fireproof suits.

Professors Thomas Bradley, Wade Troxell and John Williams are working with Niwot Technologies, a northern Colorado company, to develop a breathing apparatus for firefighters and hazardous materials workers that can cool them as they work. Niwot Technologies, LLC under its operations manager, Hal Gier, has developed a prototype product called the SuperCritical Air Mobility Pack, known as SCAMP, for NASA that uses cryogenic or extremely cold air to provide breathing air to firefighters in a thin, compact case.

Colorado State will develop a design to improve the pack’s endurance and cooling function, and to allow its commercial, civilian use.

“The National Fire Protection Association estimates that about 43 percent of line-of-duty deaths by firefighters are the result of cardiovascular failure, which can result from repeated heat stress,” said Bradley, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “Their heavy coats do a great job of isolating firefighters from the high temperatures associated with a fire, but meanwhile they’re roasting on the inside because there’s no way to get the heat out.

“People generate about 600 watts of metabolic heat performing common firefighting tasks like climbing stairs and carrying heavy loads,” Bradley said. “It feels like having10 60-watt light bulbs under your coat. Firefighters have a dangerous job and their equipment should not make it worse.”

Bradley and his team are developing the next generation of firefighter and HazMat airpacks so that air supply and cooling lasts longer. The development of the SCAMP toward the HazMat application will require research into manufacturing processes for thin-film thermoelectric cooling devices, improved system design, and further development of the firefighter/machine interface.

The project team includes CSU engineering seniors Nikki Dunlap, Joe Kennedy, Chris Record, Jake Renquist and Andy Rodriguez.

“For a small company, the resources available by working with the university are immense,” said Terry Gier, manager of Niwot Technologies. “The students have ideas but don’t have the working world background yet. We can help the university to develop their expertise and to combine this research and development effort with student learning.”

Poudre Fire Authority firefighters will help in the design review and field testing of the airpack.

“We support this research as improvements in the technology of protective systems will result in improved safety for firefighters,” said John Mulligan, chief of the Poudre Fire Authority. “This is promising technology that addresses the personal protection concerns of the modern firefighter.”

Bradley joined Colorado State in 2008 after obtaining his doctoral degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interests include automotive and aerospace system design and energy system management.