News: Laser show: Firefighters train on new hazardous materials identifier
Story by Spc. Cody Thompson
POPE ARMY AIRFIELD, N.C. -- Firefighters with the Fort Bragg, N.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Services trained on the Ahura FirstDefender which is the newest edition to the bases hazardous materials defense here, March 14.
The Ahura FirstDefender is a device that uses a laser to read sensitive light material through bags, and containers without having to open them.
“First responders don’t have to become directly exposed to potentially harmful materials,” Dean DeMark, the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and environmental program manager for Fort Bragg, said. “Several weeks ago there was an unknown white powder discovered in an old ammo can, when firefighters were conducting a controlled brushfire. After a HAZMAT team suited up and tested a sample of the powder with the Ahura system, they figured out instantly that it was an old field sanitation kit.”
Initially, the Ahura was created by pharmaceutical companies to test the purity of the medicines they were creating. The system reads specific chemical signatures that are contained in its database.
“These specific signatures are as unique as a fingerprint,” DeMark, a Fayetteville, N.C., native, added. “The Ahura has 10,152 different chemicals in its database, but if the signature is unknown it can be downloaded onto a memory card and sent to Thermo Fisher Scientific in Massachusetts.”
Other government agencies like the FBI and CIA have used the Ahura because of its large database.
“This an additional tool that we will use to find harmful or illegal substances,” Spc. Daniel Gray, a firefighter with the 189th Corps Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, 8th Ordinance Company, and New Smyrna Beach, Fla., native, said. “This will speed up the process and make our job a little easier.”
The Ahura was acquired through a Department of Defense program to help strengthen America’s national defense agencies.
“After 9/11, the DOD developed a program to provide equipment to fire and police departments,” Demark said. “If we’re going to have to shut down a building because of the presence of Anthrax, this device lets us figure it out beforehand.”
According to DeMark, Fort Bragg is set to receive more of these systems in the coming year, and for first responders the Ahuras can’t arrive soon enough.
“When we show up to mitigate a scene, the Ahura will take out the guess work,” Justin Putman, a lieutenant with the Fort Bragg FES, at fire station 7, and Hope Mills, N.C., native, said.
For the firefighters of Fort Bragg’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the Ahura will play a vital role in removing the guesswork when dealing with hazardous materials which could mean the difference between life and death.