BILLINGS – A Billings company has developed a faster way for first responders to track clouds of toxic gases during an accident, and they’re working with city firefighters to test it.
Diamond B Technology Solutions obtained a patent in early March for Local-Rapid Evaluation of Atmospheric Conditions, or L-REAC, which was invented on the battlefields of Iraq.
The company, which renamed the product LR-x, obtained exclusive rights from the U.S. Army and had been developing the patent for nearly a year, said Scott Roller, Diamond B’s vice president for technology.
Roller said the technology allows first responders to see where toxic plumes are moving before they arrive at a fire or toxic gas release.
The system uses available real-time weather data to create 3-D plume maps showing potential exposure levels available on mobile devices, Roller said.
It saves first responders valuable seconds, which could save lives, he said.
“What a firefighter could do is, they could get in their truck with their tablet. And they could set an incident location. And what it will do is find the closest available weather sensor, use that data to model the wind on the plume map,” Roller said.
Billings Fire Chief Bill Rash said in an email that the fire department signed an agreement with Diamond B earlier this month to try the technology at no cost.
“We are extremely anxious to test this product as we have read about this type of technology being used in other areas of the U.S. and it has been extremely successful,” Rash wrote.
Diamond B has also signed an early adopter agreement with the Fargo, N.D., Fire Department, which is where Roller is based.
In Fargo, Roller got an unexpected chance to try out the technology.
On Feb. 22, he and other residents were alerted to a diesel fuel fire in a large storage tank at the Magellan Pipeline Co.
Using data from a nearby public weather sensor, Roller used the LR-x to develop a plume model within five minutes and headed to the scene. He called the city and eventually found himself with emergency managers in the operations center.
One of his maps was used on the city’s Facebook page, and the fire was contained with no injuries.
Other possible markets for LR-x include the oil and gas industry, railroads and others who are seeking to monitor toxic plumes in advance of an accident, Roller said.
It could also be a good tool for training employees at refineries in Yellowstone County, he added.
“There is a high potential for industry applications as well. We’d like to work with the CHS’s, Phillips 66 and the Exxons of the world,” Roller said. “We feel that we could get a lot of great information out to first responders and the community a lot quicker if we had permanent installations of the application at their facilities.”
Roller said the system will cost municipalities about $200 per month and requires little hardware setup.
The L-REAC system was developed by Army research meteorologist Gail Vaucher, who sought ways to increase monitoring toxic releases after she saw the damage done by chemical burn pits in Iraq.
Diamond B then learned of the technology through TechLink, a Montana State University program funded by the Department of Defense to market military technology for civilian use.
Diamond B must pay a 4 percent royalty on all sales of the technology back to the Army, but the company retains the expertise and contacts of those scientists who first developed the system, Roller said.
Diamond B Technology Solutions’ parent firm is Diamond B Companies, which has operated in Billings for nearly four decades. The tech arm is based in North Dakota, and the company also operates in real estate, agriculture manufacturing and construction and hospitality.
Diamond B Companies owns two well-known Billings businesses: the Boothill Inn in the Heights and the Windmill on the West End.
Reporting by Erik Olson for MTN News