A new breathing device that may save the lives of guests trapped in high-rise fires may soon be used in U.S. hotels.
Llifeline, which stands for Life Line in Fire Emergencies, enables people to draw air from drainage pipes underneath bathroom sinks.
Invented by a Schenectady, N.Y., firefighter who is also a plumber, the device is supposed to be used as a last resort and doesn't replace other fire-safety procedures.
Statistics show that most fatalities in high-rise hotel fires are from smoke inhalation and not from the fire.
In one version of the product, hotels can modify their plumbing to replace a portion of the pipes with a fitting that has a cap or nipple that can be easily unscrewed.
Underneath the washbowl, guests would also find two plastic surgical face masks connected to a collapsible plastic 10-foot hose. After unscrewing the cap, a guest can place the hose on the pipe fitting and breathe an unlimited amount of air.
'Air in the Pipes'
"There's breathable air in the pipes under every sink in every bathroom," James Lunny, vice president of Llifeline Services, said. "This product provides a means to use that air in an emergency until help arrives."
After the hose is connected and the mask is on, guests are instructed to get into the bathtub or shower (the 10 feet of hose allows movement), cover themselves with a towel or blanket, turn on the water and wait for help.
"Having the water on provides a double measure of protection because the running water will force new air into the pipe from outside the building," Lunny said. "The fire is below you or you would have evacuated the building. So you're dealing with pipes that are above you. The air supply is being replenished by the act of the water going down the shower drain."
Unless the flames reach you, your chances of survival are good, according to Lunny. "Only severe heat from flames will kill you, but the bathroom can be pitch-black from smoke and you'll still have a continual supply of fresh air."
The breathing device also is equipped with a chamber containing activated charcoal to filter out odors in plumbing systems.
Estimated cost of installation for this product is about $35 to $50 per room.
The first U.S. hotel to fix its drain pipes in this fashion was the four-story, 110-room Travelers Motor Inn in Syracuse, N.Y.
"All rooms above the first-floor level will have the new pipe system by the end of October," said Anthony Carnevale, president of Travelers Motor Inns. Guests will be alerted to the system by a notice on the bathroom mirror.
The eight-story, 112-suite L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills expects to have the device installed by Thanksgiving, Seveern Ashkenazy, president of the L'Ermitage chain, said. After testing, the product is expected to be used at the chain's nine other properties.
The second Llifeline product is a portable model called Travel-Safe. The kit, which comes in a 1-pound bag, includes a nylon wrench (the wrench is made of nylon so it won't set off airport metal detectors) with a wide-mouth opening that enables it to be used on various sizes of pipes.
"You don't need a mechanical aptitude to use the wrench," Lunny said. "Anyone can use the wrench and connect the hose to the fitting. Our tests show that it takes men around 15 to 18 seconds to unscrew the pipe and women about 20 to 25 seconds."
Tag for Outside the Door
Once the wrench is used to unscrew the pipe, the user can hook the nozzle and then go into the bathtub or shower. The kit includes illustrated instructions and a multilingual tag that slides outside the door to alert firefighters.
Legislation is pending in New York to make the device mandatory in all rooms above the fourth floor in new high-rises in the state.
Standard rules of fire safety should be applied before the device is used, Lunny said. The company says that if you suspect a fire, grab your room key and go to the door. If the door isn't hot, open it slowly and be prepared to close it quickly.
If the hallway is clear, walk or crawl to the nearest exit. Don't use the elevator.
Walk down the stairs if you can; if not, re-enter your room, shove the lifeline card underneath the door, phone the hotel operator or a 911 number, and then use the Llifeline device.
The travel kit is expected to be available in specialty stores in Southern California in early November. Information: Llifeline Services Ltd., 148 Clinton St., Schenectady, N.Y. 13305; phone (518) 346-4011.