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KEEP BREATHING: Why A Gas Mask / Respirator Might Be The Single Most Important Item Of Survival Gear You Own. Graphic © off-grid.info. Background image – Pixabay (PD)
Why A Gas Mask Might Be The Single Most Important Piece Of Survival Gear You Could Own:
In numerous survival situations, one of the first things to go out of the window is air quality… and as we all know, if you can’t breathe, you are done for in minutes. Wildfire smoke, asbestos-laden dust from a building collapse, poison gas, dust storm, burning plastics, viruses, bacterial contaminants, radionucleides and many other dangerously toxic substances could be in the air.
For this reason I would place a good quality respirator / gas mask right up at the top of the list of survival items you ought to own, carry and know how to deploy. If you run out of food, you at least have some time to figure things out. If you can’t breathe, you don’t. You have approximately a minute or two before consciousness slips away…
A gas mask’s purpose is to serve as a filter for the air you’re breathing in and to stop harmful substances from getting into your respiratory system. The Police force has them, the Special Forces have them, firefighters have them, spray painters have them… a gas mask is a real asset for any serious survivalist – so get a high quality respirator for each family member – and learn how to use them.
Respirator Safety Notes:
Don’t skimp on quality: When it comes to equipment that could potentially save your life, the quality of your equipment could truly mean the difference between life and death. In a real survival situation, you won’t be happy that you bought that cheap knock-off brand, or that Soviet-era mask that looks cool at parties but is 30 years past the end of its shelf life! Get the best quality you can afford. In other words, look for either genuine military issue masks or major “industry standard” brands such as 3M that are used by first responders and professionals. My 7 top choices are below.
Learn how to deploy and care for your gear: The day you find yourself choking is not the day you should be trying to figure out how to put the mask on! Practice. The first step is knowing where your mask is and being able to access it quickly. The second step is to make sure it is in serviceable condition. Finally, learn how to put it on quickly and efficiently.
Get out and stay out: A respirator may be very helpful to help you endure or get out of a smoky / dusty / fumey situation; but note that it will not give protection against carbon monoxide / carbon dioxide or other scenarios of oxygen shortage / extreme levels of fumes. This is why you see fire crews entering smoke filled buildings with full breathing apparatus that includes air / oxygen cylinders! It’s a sad truth that many people die going back into burning buildings to rescue their laptop / pet / whatever. Do not attempt to enter a burning building with a standard “cartridge respirator”, thinking that it will “stop everything”! It won’t: No amount of filtration will save you if oxygen levels are too low for survival!
RTFM: All safety equipment has limitations and a sphere of intended use. Read the manual and understand the applications, intended purpose and limitations of your gear.
A Quick Rundown Of The Various Types Of Gas Mask / Respirator:
1. Basic N95 Paper Face Masks:
NIOSH approved, cheap; and I might get into trouble if I say too many bad things about them – but tbh I don’t rate these very highly at all. I have no agenda here. They offer “some” protection against particulates and of course the dreaded viruses – but they do have some drawbacks as compared to higher spec gear:
1) They don’t offer any “gas phase” protection i.e. against solvents or other gaseous pollutants.
2) Disposable masks, especially those with a single, non-adjustable elastic strap, often don’t seal very well against the face, meaning that some of the air you are sucking in may go right around the edges of the mask! If you have a beard they are even less effective.
3) There is also no good way to test the seal; unlike the 3M half face and full face respirators, which can easily be “vacuum checked” for a seal by covering the cartridge with a hand and seeing if you can inhale (you shouldn’t be able to!) A paper mask will get you into the grocery store and you might as well pack a few in your survival kit – but real survivalists know their limited value.
2. “Half Face” Respirator:
Above: A good industry standard half-face respirator that will provide excellent general purpose use – the 3M 6502QL.
There two main types of “proper” respirators: half face and full face. A half face will cover your mouth and nose only; they’re used in spray painting and are recommended only if you know what contaminant you’re dealing with. In case of an extremely dangerous contaminant or if you simply don’t know what you’re facing, a full face gas mask is the way to go. Not only will it cover your respiratory system, but I’ll also protect your eyes and face from dangerous agents, like Anthrax – as well as from flying debris impact and particles.
3. “Full Face” Respirator:
One of the great benefits of a full face respirator is that it does the job of two items: Safety glasses and respirator. If you need to wear both a respirator and eye protection at the same time (quite common!) it gets a bit difficult: The safety goggles will not sit correctly over the top of the mask and end up perched ridiculously in the wrong position, prone to falling off and leaving a big gap under the eyes. They may also disturb the seal of the respirator. Because of the nuisance, people tend to skimp on one or the other, and this type of risk-taking can cause bad things to happen. The full face respirator solves this problem beautifully. (A face shield can also work as it doesn’t interfere with a mask.)
A further and highly significant benefit of a full face respirator is that it offers a more complete protection against biological contamination – because it completely protects the eyes, a very common route for infection into the body – either via micro-droplets or from manually rubbing the eyes.
4. PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirator):
This system combines a full face respirator with a fan and a battery pack, pulling filtered air into the mask continuously and therefore not only making breathing more effortless but also giving “positive air pressure” inside the mask – which reduces the risk of unfiltered air being pulled in through a breach of the face seal.
5. Full Breathing Apparatus / Compressed air:
These are compressed air systems that work just like a scuba breathing system: they don’t have air filtration, but a pressurized air canister, that is completely sealed. You see these operated by fire personnel as oxygen levels inside a burning building may be dangerously low, even if the air being breathed has been filtered.
CARTRIDGES and FILTERS
It’s imperative to have the correct cartridge for your intended application. This can get overwhelming with the sheer number of cartridges available – but persist. Learn about the various cartridges, how to use them correctly, which substances they will remove from the air and for how long. For example the 3M 6003 cartridges protect against organic vapours (i.e. solvents) and acid gases such as sulphur dioxide:
So much for “gas phase purification”. The good news is that you can easily combine your choice of gas-phase cartridges with the particulate filters – using the simple clip-on filter retainers – for good all-round general protection:
Respirator cartridges have a limited life; you may see both a best before date and a total number of hours of use they are intended for. Make a note of the date they were put into service and “if in doubt, switch it out”.
Top 7 List Of Top Quality Respirators
1. 3M 6700/6800/6900
Fantastic piece of survival gear: This is a full face respirator from 3M that is very highly regarded. The code number denotes the size: 6700 = small, 6800 = medium, 6900 – large.
It gives robust eye protection – the 6900’s face shield meets requirements of ANSI Z87.1-2010 for high impact (Z87+) – as well as high quality air filtration. This respirator can give very real and potentially livesaving protection in brutal circumstances.
2. 3M 6700/6800/6900 With PAPR
For an “even more serious” full face respirator, check out the 3M 6900PF system:
This is the same 6700/6800/6900 face mask but with an added Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) active airflow system – the “PF” in the model number is short for “power flow”.
I really like this unit a lot and survivalists will of course be highly motivated by the protection against radioactive particles, particles and biologicals.
This, according to the Amazon page, gives protection against lead, asbestos, radionucleides and radon daughters (when fitted with the 450-01-01 cartridge as illustrated). Despite their high cost these are flying off the shelves right now as you can imagine, with WW3 fears looming! I want one of these so badly.
The 3M 450-01-01 filter, designed to be used in conjunction with the 6900PF, is not only used in scenarios such as asbestos and mold remediation, but is evidently an equipment of choice for emergency use: One reviewer wrote “1 year in… kept me alive through C0V1D working in an ICU with the Powerflow PAPR”. This respirator is a serious item of real survival gear.
Pro Tip: Take a look at the user instructions for the 3M Powerflow system. You can learn much from such documents, not only about this respirator but about general correct use of respirators and strategies for dealing with contaminated areas in general. Learning how to use your equipment is a vital part of prepping! Good gear is very valuable, but you can’t just shop your way to survival. If you “just buy stuff”, pack it in a crate and wait for the worst to happen, you are not going to be truly ready when it does. Make sure also that you have printed copy of all relevant instructions with your survival kit.
3. MIRA SAFETY Certified CBRN NBC Mask Full-Face Respirator CM-6M
The MIRA Safety CM-6M is a top quality, professional grade full-face respirator that works in conjunction with the MIRA NBC-77 SOF filters, which are regarded as “True CBRN filters” – giving protection against Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear contamination; including radioactive iodine.
Designed for a wide range of applications, including civil defense, first response, industry, construction, painting, welding and more.
This system has a speech diaphragm to improve communication, a built-in drinking system and a wrap-around visor that gives a 180º field of view.
Very highly rated by reviewers including combat veterans who have done several tours of duty in Iraq.
Note – not NIOSH approved (for USA workplace applications).
This gas mask also has a PAPR option: The MIRA MB-90. This blower is compatible with any traditional 40mm NATO threaded gas mask – so you can use it with other masks also:
4. Drager DHS 7000
Difficult to obtain and very expensive, but very highly regarded.
Quote from one reviewer (who wrote the most detailed and expert gas mask review I’ve ever seen): “This mask is absolutely incredible… From all the masks I own, it’s definitely my favorite. I found one that was used for around $500, and they sell new for about $800. You can use it with one of 3 configurations: an RD40 filter, a PAPR, or an SCBA. If you can find one and have the cash, buy it. For basic CBRN preparedness purposes, however, it’s definitely overkill.”
[- I think overkill is rather good when it comes to quality survival gear that could save your life!]
Technical info from the manufacturer: https://www.draeger.com/Library/Content/dhs-7000-pi-9041134-us.pdf
5. British Army Gas Masks: Avon S10 & GSR
The standard British Army issue Avon S10 is a “classic” and was for decades regarded as one of the world’s best gas masks. You can pick these up on eBay UK or through various army surplus outlets. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/185635475768
The size is marked on the outside (1 – large, 2 – medium, 3 – small). These have a filter attachment on the left side, an integral drinking straw that can be attached to a water bottle and and a communications system attachment on the right.
You can still pick up the Scott F9000 40mm filters on eBay too. Example: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/394167855851
Tinted glass is also available: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/265217150175
The S10 was replaced in 2011 by the Scott Safety General Service Respirator (GSR), which was designed for up to 24 hours of continuous use in CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) environments (as opposed to the 4 hours of the S10):
The GSR is reportedly one of the best if not the best NBC gas masks currently available in terms of protection and is the current gas mask of the British military services. These masks have numerous advanced design features including dual face seals and twin bayonet filters with self-closing valves that make changing filters safer! The single wrap-around visor also gives better visibility than the twin circular visors of the S10.
The GSR masks take Bayonet filters but can use standard certified 40mm CBRN NATO filters in an emergency. The filters linked on Amazon have a 13.5 year shelf life which makes them a good survival item.
Size 1 facepiece is X-Large, Size 2 is Large, Size 3 is Medium (most common), Size 4 is Small.
You can pick these up on eBay UK for around £150-£200. Example: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/115580898322
6. Sperian Protection Full Face Respirator
This is the current Polish NATO Spec Gas Mask.
This looks like a high quality mask. Manufactured in strict compliance with European standard EN 136:1998, this fits standard Commercial or NATO Issue NBC/ CBRN / P3 40mm thread filters.
7. MSA Advantage® 1000 Full-Facepiece Respirator
The MSA Advantage 1000 full face mask is a high quality 100% American design. It was developed for first responders and military personnel based on a US Military design that was used by the USAF during the Operation Desert Storm.
It has a Hycar face piece which is about 40% lighter than most full gas masks and also a customizable fit. There’s also a standard nose cup to eliminate visor fogging and a mechanical speaking diaphragm. The visor is a one piece that’s extremely tough and offers great field of vision. The canister can be mounted on both the left and the right side which is beneficial for firearm applications and it’s effective against all sorts of biological and chemical agents including chloroacetophenone (CN), chlorobenzylidene (CS), particulates and more (with the correct catridges. The head harness is adjustable and stable. Comes standard with a speaking diaphragm for clear, short-range communications.
Additional gas masks:
M61 Finnish Gas Mask
The MA61 model was developed in Finland and it’s meant to be used as a heavy-duty gas mask. It’s a side-mounted mask, which means the filter is screwed into the side of the mask, rather than in the font. The rubber it is made from is extremely durable, but rather soft flexible at the same time. Its flexibility means that the mask will incase the face of the wearer perfectly, making it airtight, so that noxious fumes or chemical agents won’t find their way inside. It uses a twin goggle system rather than a single visor. The exhalation system has a plastic valve with an integrated speech diaphragm, for better communication.
Israeli 4A1 Civilian Gas Mask
Obtainable on eBay and through surplus stores. Not rated for CBRN and many of these are decades old. Poor visibility due to the small dual visors.
Israeli Military M15 Mask
Similar to the 4A1. Bigger visors. 20 year shelf life. Check the valves for damage. May not protect against all warfare agents.
Russian/German M-10-M Protective Mask / Soviet era GP-5
Outdated, not fit to be used for CBRN protection. Good for cosplay but that’s about it.
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