ESSEX Victim Rescue Unit (VRU)

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ESSEX Victim Rescue Unit (VRU)

ESSEX PB&R $375 (10 year service life)


It has often been said that while a burglary can cause you harm, a fire can put you out of business. Or kill you. Indeed, fire, along with automobile accidents, accidents, and medical emergencies, is one of the major preoccupations of protective work.

Since it is the smoke that is liable to kill you in a fire, not the fire itself, smoke masks or hoods are very important to have if you are caught in a fire, and we intend to work our way through several different available devices.

There are two ways to classify these devices. One is by whether they are masks which fit on your face, or hoods that go over your head. The second is whether they filter the air, or contain their own air supply. In looking at filtering systems to evaluate, we have chosen to look only at systems that include the ability to deal with carbon monoxide, as well as particulates and other gases common to modern building fires.

The Victim Rescue Unit (VRU) is a hood (as opposed to mask) escape unit that uses its own supply of oxygen, rather than filtering the ambient air. This means you don’t need to worry about whether any particular gas or other contaminant can be filtered. The device was developed by Dupont a decade ago in response to several incidents, including an otherwise survivable (the aircraft was on the ground) aircraft fire that killed 55 people. The U.S. Air Force has over 100,000 of these devices, covering every passenger on its passenger-carrying aircraft. Other government agencies also use them, as do corporate customers, both on corporate aircraft and for protective work. As you might expect, you can’t take the VRU on a commercial flight.

The VRU comes in a canvas carrying bag with shoulder strap, and is roughly 9 1⁄2 inches by 8 1⁄2 inches by 1 3⁄4 inches, and weighs about a pound and a half, which means it is small enough to toss into your carry-on or attaché case when traveling by car or company plane, or your flight bag if you are a pilot, or your desk drawer at work, or the bug-out bag you keep next to your bed at the hotel. The carrying case of the one we tested was a sort of international orange color, making it visible in the day, with a luminous strip visible in the dark. While it has belt loops, it is too big to normally carry on your belt.

The device is straightforward. You take the sealed pouch out of the canvas bag, tear open the pouch, remove the hood, turn on the oxygen flow by grabbing the bottle in one hand and the red ball on in the other hand and pulling it, and then put the unit over your head. The hood is made from multiple layers of Teflon® and Kapton® and goes over your entire head. It has an elastic silicon neck seal. There is no front or back to the VRU, eliminating concern as to whether it is on correctly.

An advantage of a non-demand oxygen supply (as opposed to a filtered system) is that the VRU can be used with an unconscious or otherwise disabled person, or a small child who might be able to use a mouthpiece but whose lungs are insufficiently developed to draw air through a filter, or an infant. In the case of a baby, you can activate the VRU and stick the baby into the hood, letting it fasten about the infant’s waist.

Our testing was non-scientific, in that we were interested in discovering whether the VRU is practical to use in an emergency situation. We are confident that we would be able to make our way down a smoke-filled stairwell in a hotel or building fire wearing the VRU.

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