Firefighters Receive Radiation Detectors;
First responders will use hand-held devices

Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)...07/03/2002

By William Murphy. STAFF WRITER

Once upon a time, firefighters climbed ladders to rescue people and hosed down flames to put out fires. Now, they're responding to emergencies with radiation detectors.

The Fire Department said yesterday that every firefighting unit in Manhattan was equipped with a Radalert 50 detector in the past week, and every unit in the city should have one within the next week or so.

About 300 superior officers have been trained to operate the hand-held devices and the rest will be trained shortly, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.

"This device will be used at the scene of explosions, severe structural collapses, motor vehicle crashes involving shipping containers, railway incidents, at medical facilities and research facilities," he said.

"In short, any situation where the officer in charge thinks there may be a radiation situation," he said.

He said about 500 of the detectors, which retail for $ 335 each, were donated by the Centurion Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps law enforcement agencies and has recently started helping firefighters.

The device looks like a medium-sized calculator with a digital display that shows readings of alpha, beta, gamma and X-ray radiation.

Specialized units, such as the hazardous materials unit, rescue companies and specialized squads already have more sophisticated detectors, Scoppetta said.

The detectors will allow the first responding firefighting units to make a quick decision on whether radiation is present. If it is, they can pull back and wait for the specialized units that have space suit-like protective clothing.