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Few people die from the impact when a plane crashes.  They die from the fire that commonly follows.

And the danger in any fire is not so much the flames as the fumes - the smoke, toxic fumes, and carbon monoxide.

Here's a device that could save your life, not just in a plane but in a building or elsewhere too.

 
 
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Evac-U8 Emergency Escape Smoke Hood

Survive and escape from a fire using this simple device
 

Three out of four people who die in a fire do so from smoke inhalation.

DuPont's Evac-U8 Emergency Escape Smoke Hood is quick and easy to apply and then filters the air you breath, plus protects your face, hair, and eyes from fire and fumes.

 

 

Travelers will find the Evac-U8 Smoke Hood a useful safety aid not just while they're flying, but when they're staying in hotels too.

And everyone else who spends time, living and/or working in high rise buildings or in other places where smoke and fumes can pose a hazard in the event of a fire should also consider having one of these devices close at hand 'just in case'.
 

RECALL NOTICE :  In March 06 the manufacturer of these Smoke Hoods announced a recall on units sold between approx Sept 2000 and March 2006.  If you bought a unit between those dates, contact the manufacturer to arrange for your unit to be exchanged.

What You Get

The Evac-U8 Smoke Hood comes packaged in a simple cardboard box.  Inside is the unit itself, a wall mounting bracket complete with dry-wall screws, a warranty card and a User's Manual with simple instructions and diagrams in four languages.

The Evac-U8 weighs 10.5 ounces and is in a cylinder measuring 2" x 5".  Until you open it, at one end is a bright red cap.  This and the bright green body help you find the unit in an emergency.

At the other end is a photoluminous white disc that reflects back light.  This can help other people find you, especially in poor visibility or darkness.

Not seen, but inside the unit is the hood, made of fire-resistant Kapton.  Kapton can withstand temperatures of up to 752F - way more than we can!

The unit sells for $79, or $72.50 each if buying two or more, through Magellan's.

The manufacturer has a helpful website, including some demonstration videos.

Using the Evac-U8

I stared and stared at my bright green canister (with red cap), and wondered what was inside and how it worked.  And therein lies the temptation and the trick.

It seems prudent to test out the unit in advance, so as to be better prepared for an emergency.  But once you open the unit, you activate it and after a short while, even if not used at all, its filtering ceases to be effective.

Read on for my own experience testing a couple of units, and then for an inexpensive solution that will allow you to test a unit too.

A Trial Use of the Evac-U8

The red top of the unit can be removed by twisting it in either direction.  This is good.  There is nothing to remember or get wrong.  Simply grab the unit and twist it a quarter turn.  The unit has no-slip grips making this easy to do.

When you twist the lid, the tamper-evident seal is broken, and the lid pops off, revealing the tightly folded up orange colored hood inside.  As you unfold this, you'll notice or feel (in the dark) that there is a red ribbon along the open side.  Unlike plastic bags in supermarkets, it is easy to separate the two sides of the bag.

I got the next two steps wrong the first few times I practiced with the unit.  You should first put the mouthpiece in your mouth and nosepiece on your nose, and only after doing that, then to place the hood over your head.  As I discovered, it is much more difficult doing it the other way around!

Having taken the mouthpiece and fitted the nose piece, put the bag over your head.  This was easy to do - the hood is oversized so it will fit just about any sized head, and it doesn't matter if you have glasses on, because there's plenty of space inside the hood for them, too.

The key thing is to quickly and decisively put the mouthpiece in your mouth and start breathing through it - until you do this, you're breathing contaminated air and possibly losing mental acuity without even realizing it.  The first breath of filtered air is wonderfully refreshing.

Which then left only one step remaining - pulling the drawtapes tight.  And I suddenly couldn't remember - do I pull the tapes up or down?  Again, I was worried if I did the wrong thing, I'd break the hood.  I took the hood off (this was a practice, after all) and discovered you pull them down from the top, not up.

I wandered around for a while, surprising people with my unearthly appearance, and discovered two things.  Firstly, you can't talk with the Evac-U8 on - you can make noises, but because of the mouthpiece filling your mouth, you can't carry on an intelligible conversation with someone beside you.

If you're getting Smoke Hoods for your entire family or workgroup, you'll need to have some very simple way of communicating things like 'follow me' and 'not that way!'.

The other discovery was the inside of the hood partially fogged up.  I certainly couldn't read the text in the Evac-U8's user manual from inside the hood.  Which is another reason to practice before a real emergency.

In a real fire, you'll have to struggle with the twin challenges of smoke reducing visibility around you, plus some fogging inside the hood.  Possibly also your eyes might be slightly irritated between the start of the fire and when you deployed your smoke hood, and possibly also it might be at night and in the dark.

For these reasons, you need to practice deploying a smoke hood with your eyes shut, and realize that after you have the hood on, your escape will involve poor visibility.

Breathing through the unit wasn't as natural an experience as simply breathing normally, of course, and required a bit more effort.  You'll want to remember to breath deeply and deliberately, and try to relax.  ('Try to relax' - there's a rather naive suggestion for a time when you're struggling to escape a fire and near-death experience!)

Don't get the wrong idea - you'll still be a million times better off than the person next to you without an Evac-U8!

Destructive Testing

I tried to think of what could go wrong with one of these units in a real emergency.

My first concern was the very thin and lightweight Kapton hood.  At DuPont's urging, I tried to break it, and had to agree it was extraordinarily strong.  However, it has low puncture resistance (ie from sharp pointed objects) and once a tear has started, it is easy to extend it.

I tried abusing the pull cords but couldn't break them.

I was also curious to see just how fire resistant the Kapton was, so held it for increasing periods of time over a gas stovetop burner.  Normal plastic bags crumpled and smoked almost instantly, and paper bags burst into flame.  The Kapton hood would last for several seconds before wrinkling and blackening, in a heat so intense you would 'fail' long before the Kapton would.

Generally pulling and dropping and stressing the unit every possible way caused no problems until a massive tug caused the mouthpiece and hood to separate from the filter canister.  If this happens - and there's just a friction fit between the two units - there's no way you're going to be able to refit the two units.  But how likely is it you'll be massively tugging at the two parts trying to separate them?  Hopefully, very unlikely!

So, please appreciate this was destructive testing to find out where, when, and how the unit would fail.  This is not recreating likely real world experiences and problems.  For normal emergency use (if you can use these two words together!) the Evac-U8 seems more than adequate for the probable requirements and stresses you'll place on it.

Training Units

Necessarily, these units are single use devices.  Once you open and activate the unit, its chemicals immediately start working, whether there are noxious gases to absorb and convert or not, and lose their effectiveness in a few hours, even if not used.

The units cost $79 each (discounted down to $72.50 if you buy two or more from Magellan's) and so they are not something you'd want to idly open just to have a look-see at what is inside.  But, on the other hand, it is fair and responsible to want to be able to practice deploying the unit in an emergency.  Sure, it is easy to use, but you need the reassurance of having tried it yourself.

Fortunately, DuPont have thought of this, and now sell a training unit that you can open and practice with, for only $29.85.

For the purpose of this review, however, I tested two 'live' real Evac-U8 units.

It was very helpful to me to practice, because it turned out I was doing things in the wrong order.  I was first putting the hood over my head, and only after having done that, attempting to insert the mouthpiece and clip the nose piece on my nose.  This is a good example of the type of mistake you too could make if you're using the Evac-U8 for the first time in a real emergency, having done nothing more than read the manual before.

I urge you to get a training unit.  Not only will this relieve the temptation to play with the real unit, but also it gives you necessary experience in using the hood.  The first time I tried donning an Evac-U8, I found it difficult and it took a long time to do this - precious minutes (!) that I should have been using to flee the fire.  After several practices, I could do everything in 10 seconds, which is reasonably fast enough.

The hood is not complicated to use, but in a semi-panicked situation, perhaps with bad light, you'll definitely be very thankful for having had the foresight to get a training unit and practice with it.

What an Evac-U8 Does

In theory, the Evac-U8 is very simple.  It filters the air you breathe in, and when you breathe out again, the air flows into the hood and out around the bottom of the hood where you pulled the tapes tight.

This simple process keeps a positive pressure inside the hood, stopping contaminated air from getting in and irritating your eyes or entering your nose/mouth.  This positive pressure means that if you should accidentally make a small puncture or tear in the Kapton hood, you will still be well protected because the air you're breathing out will stop outside air from coming in to the hood.

The clever part of the Evac-U8 is the filtering processes the air goes through before you get to breathe it.  The air goes through four stages of filtering :

  • A hopcalite catalyst converts deadly carbon monoxide into harmless carbon dioxide

  • A zeolite dessicant removes moisture from the air

  • Activated carbon absorbs toxic gases from the fire

  • An electrostatically charged particle filter precipitates larger smoke particles

By the time your breathing air has passed through these four stages, you hopefully have air that is safe to breathe.

The Kapton hood itself provides a little physical protection from heat and flame, and by creating an air pillow around your head, you're actually quite well protected (or, at least, your head is) both from direct flame and indirect heat.  In addition to blocking the heat, the hood definitely won't melt, at least not until temperatures way above what you'd hope to get close to.

The Evac-U8 has a five year shelf life before its filtering chemicals have lost their potency.

Competitors to the Evac-U8

There are, of course, other model smoke hoods available.  Some are considerably bulkier and more expensive, while adding little practical extra benefit for the typical single use fire escape/emergency scenario.  Others are less expensive and smaller/lighter, but don't work as well as the Evac-U8.

One of the key factors to evaluate is a unit's ability to convert carbon monoxide (CO) gas into carbon dioxide (CO2) gas.

Here's an example of a lower priced unit - the Peace of Mind - which sounds impressive to the casual reader looking at its description, but apparently this unit does nothing at all to protect you from carbon monoxide - the most likely killer if you're in a smoke filled environment, making it of very little value.

Other units make dubious claims about filtering carbon monoxide.  This gas can not be filtered, which is why the Evac-U8 converts it to the relatively harmless CO2.

In choosing a smoke hood, you're choosing something your life may depend upon.  Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish in such a life and death scenario.  Get a 'name brand' you can rely on, and there are few more reliable brand names in the world today than DuPont.

How Long it Works For

The Evac-U8 claims to give you a minimum of 15 minutes safe breathing time.

The actual life you'll get from the unit depends on various factors such as the concentration of harmful materials in the outside air, the age of the unit, and the ambient temperature.  In some cases, the unit might buy you more than 15 minutes, but in other cases, it might not.

However, the point is moot.  No-one wants to hang around a blazing fire.  Don't delay - proceed at fastest safe speed to get away from the fire, before heat, falling burning things, an expiring Evac-U8, and who knows what else takes their toll of you.

The Evac-U8 and the TSA

So there you are, taking your Evac-U8 through airport security, and a TSA screener notices this strange and solid canister, weighing almost lb.  What do you think happens next?

Evac-U8's manufacturer (DuPont) advises they've exchanged data with the TSA and Canada's similar organization, and have been told there are no restrictions on bringing smoke hoods on planes.  The TSA even undertook to include reference to the Evac-U8 in their training materials.

So, in theory, there shouldn't be a problem.  In the real and imperfect world, we are told there have been occasional incidents reported back to DuPont - perhaps one every two or three months; a very low number when you consider the hundreds of thousands of units they have sold.

In most cases, the incident didn't lead to the unit being banned.  Instead, on occasion, passengers have been questioned about the units, and sometimes an overly cautious screener has required the unit to be placed into checked luggage.  Once or twice, a screener has opened up a unit without warning, thereby of course invalidating it, and - but very rarely - apparently on occasion a unit may be confiscated by a poorly trained screener.

Magellan's include an extra explanatory sheet when they send Evac-U8s to their customers, and advise that in the last four years, they're unaware of a single customer having a problem with taking an Evac-U8 on board their flight with them.

I surveyed my readers to see what their experiences have been.  A typical response came from Bob who said

I've carried a smoke hood for quite a number of years, and the Evac-U8 for around a year and a half now. Never had any problems whatever with security (and I travel every week).

Haven't had to use it (thank God!), so I can't comment on anything related to actually wearing or using one, but except for the bit of space it take up in the suitcase, it hasn't proven to be problematic in any way.

On the other hand, Doug had one confiscated by a TSA screener who claimed these products are not allowed, and there is no proof they are what they claim instead of being weapons.

The Magellan's material helps resolve such problems because it includes a cut-away view of a unit enabling the TSA to match an X-ray image with the contents of the unit, and if the security seal is unbroken, they can be fairly confident the unit is exactly what it claims to be.

Chances are your experience will be like Bob and you shouldn't let this interfere with your decision to keep one in your carry-on bag.

Summary and Recommendation

Your chances of needing to use an Evac-U8 are hopefully very low.  On the other hand, more than 4000 people die in the US in fires every year, as many as 3000 of whom died from smoke inhalation rather than the flames alone.

Chances are you already have smoke detectors - why not consider an Evac-U8 as well.

An Evac-U8 definitely brings benefits to people at home, at work, and on their travels.

When buying a device that could save your life, you want to be sure you're choosing something you truly can rely on, something that will work as promised.  The DuPont name is a very reassuring guarantee that these units are built to high quality standards.  You can rely on the Evac-U8.

The unit is easy to use, especially if you also get a training unit to practice with.

Available from Magellan's and various other suppliers.  Recommended.

 

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Originally published 21 Oct 2005, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

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