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How to Clean a Gas Detector

gas detector in gloved hand

First Published by Industrial Scientific, March 13, 2020

Personal gas monitors are lifesaving instruments that must be worn in your breathing zone to be effective. OSHA defines the breathing zone as “a hemisphere forward of the shoulders within a radius of approximately six to nine inches,” so a collar, lapel, or outside breast pocket is usually a good option. This location also keeps the monitor visible so you can see alerts if your hearing is impaired while working in a high-noise environment.

Unfortunately, wearing a gas detector within six to nine inches of your nose and mouth means that whatever dirt, grime, or bacteria your monitor has picked up is now in your breathing zone.

If you need to clean your personal gas monitor, your first instinct might be to grab a disinfecting wipe, like you would for any other surface. This is a bad idea.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Regular Disinfectants

The precision sensors in your monitor are highly sensitive to many different chemicals, including alcohol and other disinfectants, so using them could prevent your monitor from alerting you to gas hazards. Additionally, alcohol-based cleaners will cause your monitor to go into alarm. If you zero the monitor too soon, the monitor will read falsely low, potentially putting you in unsafe conditions.

The rubber, plastics, and barriers in your monitor can also absorb the disinfectant chemicals. This is problematic because these are some of the same chemicals you may monitor. This effect does not last long, but the length of time you need to wait before zeroing varies, so the approach leaves plenty of room for error.

How to Clean a Gas Detector— Without Damaging It

For typical dirt and grime, we recommend wiping down your gas detector with a soap and water solution of 8 to 10 parts water to one part dish soap, like Dawn®. This cleans the monitor with less risk of damaging the sensors or putting you at risk of a malfunction. However, the soap and water approach cleans the monitor of everyday buildup—it does not necessarily kill bacteria or viruses that may exist on the surface.

To give your monitor a more serious cleaning, wipe down your monitor with a bleach and water solution of approximately 50 parts water to one part bleach recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC advises using 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water (approximately 20 milliliters per liter).

You can use this same method to sanitize a docking station, allowing it to dry completely before use.

For more information on general practices for disinfection, please refer to the CDC’s Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations.

No matter which cleaning method you use, be sure to dock the monitor or bump test it to be sure it’s working properly.

Download a printable PDF of this blog post.

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The dangers of HCN exposure during fire overhaul

gas detector

From Industrial Scientific, August 2019

When firefighters attack a structure fire, the hazards to life and health are obvious. The flames, the roiling smoke, and the extreme heat are clear reminders that carelessness can lead to tragic consequences. Once the fire is extinguished, however, the operation transitions to the more routine phase of salvage and overhaul. At this point, first responders can be lulled into a false sense of security because the most serious hazard is now largely invisible—toxic gases in the environment.

Research has shown that these toxins linger at alarming levels well after the fire has been extinguished. But because most firefighters do not carry portable gas detectors, they’re probably unaware of the danger and may remove their SCBA mask and risk inhaling toxic fumes.

Fire smoke is a complex mix of toxins, and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) has emerged as one of the most common and dangerous. While carbon monoxide (CO) often gets the attention, HCN is commonly found alongside it, and together, they’re known as the “toxic twins.” Both are asphyxiants, meaning they interfere with the body’s ability to process oxygen. Individually they’re dangerous. Together, they’re even more deadly.

Historically, HCN was not a concern after a typical house fire. But as the use of synthetic materials began to replace natural materials in the construction industry, HCN has become more prevalent. When heated, these fibers and petroleum-based products emit HCN at levels unseen by earlier firefighters.

How Dangerous is HCN Gas Exposure?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has determined that at 50 ppm, HCN can render someone unable to escape to safety, and thus is immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). But even at much lower levels, the long-term health effects are a concern. At only 4.7 ppm, exposure should be limited to fifteen minutes per day.

After a fire, it’s not unusual for firefighters to experience headaches, sore throat, and nausea. Unfortunately, few firefighters connect these symptoms to inhaling toxic gases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, early symptoms of cyanide poisoning include lightheadedness, rapid breathing, nausea, vomiting, feeling of neck constriction and suffocation, confusion, restlessness, and anxiety.1

While a single exposure to high concentrations of HCN is concerning, it’s the repeated exposures over a lifetime of firefighting that pose long-term harm to the human body. Each exposure damages cells, and the heart, brain, and nervous system are especially prone to degradation. This is why it’s important for firefighters to monitor gas concentrations during overhaul.

When is it Safe to Remove my SCBA?

Considering the dangers posed by HCN and other toxic gasses, how do you know when it is safe to remove an SCBA?

One solution is to train firefighters to always wear SCBAs during overhaul. The problem with this approach is obvious: SCBA gear is hot and restrictive. When safety practices become onerous, no matter how well-intentioned, people tend to ignore them.

A better solution is to don SCBA gear when atmospheric conditions require it. This means carrying a portable gas detector which will alarm when HCN or other gases rise to hazardous levels.

At Industrial Scientific, our portable gas detectors are engineered for this kind of application. The Ventis® Pro5 Multi-Gas Monitor is ideal for monitoring HCN and other gases during overhaul because its custom notifications make safety instructions clear and easy. For example, you can configure the monitor to display “Wear SCBA” when HCN or other gases reach dangerous levels. This removes any doubt about how you should respond. Using the Ventis Pro5 to monitor gas concentrations during overhaul also means you only need one meter to monitor up to five gases. In addition to carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) sensors, fire departments typically use lower explosive limit (LEL), oxygen (O2), carbon monoxide (CO), and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) sensors. Industrial Scientific offers a wide selection of additional sensors, so you can choose the ones most relevant to the hazards your department will likely encounter.

Learn more online about Industrial Scientific’s full line of gas detection solutions for fire and emergency response teams.


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Simple Maintenance – The most important feature for fire department gas detectors

firefighters with hose

From Industrial Scientific, July 2019

As information on the hidden dangers of fire smoke proliferates, a growing number of firefighters are realizing that gas monitors are a vital part of their turnout gear. Atmospheric testing at fire scenes has shown toxic fumes at every stage of the fire, and without a portable gas detector, there is no sure way to determine whether the air in the cold zone is actually safe to breathe.

Acquiring the right gas detectors for your fire station is a double-edged sword, however. On the one hand, it’s an invaluable tool for atmospheric monitoring, but it’s also one more piece of equipment that needs regular maintenance. This leads to one of two unfortunate scenarios: to avoid the maintenance hassle, a department will neglect gas monitoring altogether, or it will make the purchase but fail to maintain the equipment. The latter choice can be catastrophic, resulting in a failed sensor that always reads zero, regardless of how much toxic gas is in the air.

The good news is that owning a gas monitor doesn’t have to be a high-maintenance relationship. There are systems currently on the market that offer simple, automated maintenance; so, when you’re looking to add gas monitoring capability, it’s important to look beyond price and warranty. You need more than a gas monitor, you need a system that offers simple and worry-free maintenance.

At Industrial Scientific, we’ve solved this gas detector maintenance problem with our DSX Docking Station. This docking station automatically performs maintenance tasks like bump testing and calibration that all gas detectors require. The station is compatible with several models of Industrial Scientific’s gas detectors, including the Ventis® MX4 and Ventis® Pro5.

How Does the Docking Station Work?

When you’re not using it, place the gas monitor on the DSX Docking Station. The station, which is plumbed to a cylinder of calibration gas, will automatically charge the gas monitor, bump test daily, and calibrate according to your company’s safety requirements. Bump test records and calibration certificates are stored digitally and can be accessed when needed. The station even tracks calibration gas levels and cylinder expiration dates and can order new cylinders automatically.

The docking station handles basic monitor diagnostics, as well. This is important because all sensor cells (the small cartridges that respond to the target gas) have a limited life expectancy. If the docking station detects a problem (e.g., the sensor cell’s sensitivity has dropped), it will order a replacement.

Another benefit is the docking station’s data logging capability. Each time it docks with a gas detector, The DSX Docking Station downloads data showing what gases the unit encountered and when, then stores it on the docking station, a local server, or in the cloud. This automated record keeping is invaluable when you need to see gas data from a previous response call.

Look Past the Sticker Price of Gas Monitors

Again, it’s important to look beyond the initial purchase price and warranty terms when choosing your next gas monitor. Examine the hidden costs in both dollars and manpower required to maintain the monitors. Since all portable gas monitors use sensors that can lose sensitivity, every gas detector requires the same kind maintenance: daily bump testing, regularly calibrating, and periodically replacing sensor cells.

The important questions are:

  • Who will handle the maintenance?
  • Can our team afford to spend time on gas monitor logistics?
  • When things get busy (and it’s always busy!), will the detector maintenance get done?

Unfortunately, some manufacturers will obscure the need for ongoing maintenance. Some even claim their product “requires no calibration.” But the laws of physics show no favoritism. All manmade devices require upkeep, especially precision instruments like gas detectors. Anyone serious about safety understands that faith in your equipment is based on testing and validation, not on promises made at the point of sale.

It’s not enough for your fire department to own a gas monitor. It must be reliable, accurate, and ready to go any hour of the day. Industrial Scientific’s gas monitors paired with a DSX Docking Station are engineered to make that possible— and simple.

If you’ve been holding off on adding gas detection to your fire response, now is the time. Read more about how Industrial Scientific is serving the gas detection needs of fire and emergency response teams around the world.


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Could your EMS or Fire Response Team miss dangerous levels of carbon monoxide?

firefighter with gas detector

From Industrial Scientific, September 2019

An EMS team, dispatched from a major metropolitan fire department, rushes to a local hotel where they find a woman nauseated, weak, and unable to get out of bed. The evidence leads to a straightforward diagnosis: it’s flu season, it’s been a bad year for the bug, and the woman seems to have all the symptoms. Bingo. They load her onto a stretcher and transport her to the hospital.

Before the day is over, the fire station receives an alarming phone call from the hospital: the woman does not have the flu after all. Rather, it’s carbon monoxide poisoning. Immediately, firefighters are dispatched back to the hotel, this time to evacuate the building. Upon arrival, responders begin searching rooms, looking for those who might be incapacitated from breathing dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Lawsuits soon follow.

If you’re interested in learning more about this tragic episode, talk to retired Fire Captain Joe Buckley. He served as a firefighter in the Pittsburgh area for twenty-five years, and having met fellow firefighters all over the nation, he’s heard this kind of story numerous times. Each story differs in the details, but the key facts remain the same —well-meaning but ill-equipped EMS personnel fail to recognize carbon monoxide poisoning because the symptoms are so similar to common afflictions like the flu or food poisoning.

Having retired from firefighting, Buckley now works for Industrial Scientific as a training specialist, teaching first responders how to use portable gas detectors. He believes, based on years of experience, that any EMS personnel entering a structure ought to be equipped with a portable carbon monoxide (CO) monitor. The detector is a critical diagnostic tool that helps first responders understand what’s really going on in their environment.

Consider the EMS team responding to the woman in the hotel. As can happen to any of us, they succumbed to tunnel vision. They were convinced the data was pointing to a compelling and simple conclusion: this woman has the flu. Imagine, though, if the team had been equipped with a compact CO detector. It would have alarmed as soon as the team entered the building, alerting them to dangerous levels of CO. They would have known immediately that everyone in the hotel was in danger and would have evacuated the building.

Carbon monoxide is an insidious toxin that seems tailor-made to fool the unsuspecting. It’s invisible and odorless, so it’s impossible to detect without specialized equipment. CO poisoning is easily mistaken for the flu because they share many of the same symptoms, including nausea, malaise, headache, and fatigue. And the risk of CO poisoning is greatest during the cold months of flu season. When temperatures drop, people fire up furnaces and kerosene heaters — both sources of CO leaks when defective or improperly ventilated.

Even worse, the remedy for the flu can be fatal if a person is actually suffering from CO poisoning. For the flu, it’s best to stay at home and rest. But if CO is present, immediate evacuation is the proper response. Tragically, it’s not uncommon for victims of CO poisoning to be sent back home to rest— right back to the toxic environment that sent them to the hospital in the first place.1

Here’s the good news. A firefighter doesn’t have to carry around bulky air-sampling equipment to monitor the environment inside a structure. Industrial Scientific’s handheld gas detectors are user-friendly and small enough to be worn as a standard part of a responder’s turnout gear. An audible alarm will sound when dangerous levels of CO are detected so there’s no question about what to do next.

These compact detectors are highly configurable and can monitor up to five gases simultaneously if desired. In addition to CO, a fire department might elect to install additional sensors to alert them to other common hazards such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S), hydrogen cyanide (HCN), and low levels of oxygen (O2).

With colder weather on the horizon, cases of the flu and CO poisoning will rise. This is the perfect time to explore Industrial Scientific’s full line of gas detection solutions for fire and emergency response teams.

1 “Carbon-Monoxide Poisoning can Mimic Flu Symptoms,” from Consumer Reports News: January 07, 2010.


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