CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It seems counter-intuitive to stay inside a house when you know there's about to be a fire.
That's exactly what we did, though, to get a real feel for a hometown product that protects the people who protect the rest of us every day.
Scott Safety, in Monroe, NC, is the company that makes the all-important Air-Paks the firefighters wear every day. The technology is forever-changing. The latest generation of packs and respirators are lighter and equipped with more bells and whistles to ensure firefighters have the most breathing time and can be found quickly in the case of an emergency.
"Obviously over the years, we have introduced more and more electronics to identify where the firefighter is. Whether it might be a downed firefighter to help other firefighters find them. We have systems that help them identify and track both from audible signals, but also from radio signals that say here is someone who needs assistance," said Andrew Chrostowski, President, Life Safety Products
The best way for us to get a sense of how they work was to try them for ourselves. We went to a training burn at a home in Union County with the Mint Hill and Fairview fire departments.
"We can't go into a fire without it. What we're able to do, that's a credit to the equipment we use," said training firefighter Paul Ward.
The mask itself took some getting used to and I had that feeling of claustrophobia when I put it on. It took me about ten minutes to aclimate myself before I could step into the home that firefighters were burning for their training.
"What if I start to panic when I get in there," I asked Ward.
"Don't worry, we'll take care of you," he said.
They started the fire in the room next to us and it quickly traveled across the ceiling to where we were kneeling against a wall. In the minutes we were in the room, Ward explained exactly what was happening and why the fire traveled in the direction it did. I could feel the heat just a little bit on my knees and shoulders. I could smell the smoke. But I was breathing regular air. The fire got very close to us. At all times there were firefighters standing by with hoses to push the flames back.
After less than five minutes in the room, we crawled out.
"It was almost like you're not even in a smoky room with that mask on. It was really thick smoke and kind of scary but it was like I was breathing normal air, it was really weird," was the first thing I said to our photographer when we got outside.
Safety is paramount at Scott Safety, they say that's why the word is in the company name. Each mask that leaves the facility and goes to departments all over the country is checked and re-checked to be sure it is 100% ready for action.
"We are not building gumballs. We're building life saving equipment and every time you touch something, you've got to think ok that could be me, my family member, there's someone I care deeply about that's putting this on their back and relying on it to get them home every night from work," said long-time employee Dee Snead.