Title:
SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR SHELTERING INDIVIDUALS IN A HAZARDOUS ENVIRONMENT
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Embodiments of the invention provide a mobile, modular emergency shelter which contains adequate breathable air cylinders connected to full face air masks, food, water, and first aid/medical supplies to enable a predetermined number of individuals (up to sixteen individuals in one embodiment) to survive and shelter in place in a hazardous environment, such as an underground mine containing toxic air secondary to explosions, fires, roof falls, or flooding, for a predetermined time period (up to four to five days in one embodiment) while awaiting rescue.



Inventors:
Mcvey, Jack E. (Midway, WV, US)
Application Number:
11/946329
Publication Date:
05/28/2009
Filing Date:
11/28/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E04H9/14
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
KRECK, JANINE MUIR
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Thomas, Raring, & Teague, P.C. (536 GRANITE AVENUE, RICHMOND, VA, 23226, US)
Claims:
That which is claimed:

1. A system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, the system comprising: a movable base unit comprising: a plurality of breathable air cylinders; a manifold for distributing air from the cylinders, the manifold comprising a plurality of ports, each port having a quick-connect fitting; an air supply control system configured to control a flow of air from the air cylinders to the manifold and to reduce an air pressure of the air from the air cylinders; and a plurality of equipment storage chambers; a plurality of individual breathing units stored within at least some of the storage chambers, the plurality comprising at least one breathing unit for each of the individuals, each breathing unit comprising: a positive pressure full-face air mask; a man-portable breathable air escape cylinder; a first stage regulator coupled to the escape cylinder and configured to direct air from either the escape cylinder or the manifold to the air mask; a mask air supply hose connecting the air mask and the first stage regulator; and a manifold air supply hose connecting the manifold and the first stage regulator, the manifold air supply hose having at least one quick-connect fitting; and a plurality of remote units, each remote unit being positioned at a predefined distance from the base unit or from another remote unit along an escape route, each remote unit comprising: a plurality of man-portable breathable air escape cylinders, the plurality comprising at least one escape cylinder for each of the individuals.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the movable base unit is sized to fit within a mine crosscut.

3. The system of claim 1, wherein the movable base unit is skid-mounted or wheel-mounted and configured to be towable.

4. The system of claim 1, wherein the manifold comprises a fixed manifold, wherein the system further comprises a portable manifold connected to the fixed manifold via an air supply hose, the portable manifold comprising a plurality of ports, and wherein the manifold air supply hose connects the portable manifold and the first stage regulator.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein the air masks comprise a nourishment port.

6. The system of claim 1, wherein the plurality of breathable air cylinders comprise a sufficient number of cylinders to supply breathable air to the predetermined number of individuals for a predetermined amount of time.

7. The system of claim 1, wherein the predetermined amount of time is at least 96 hours to conform to mine-safety regulations of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

8. The system of claim 1, wherein the base unit further comprises: a plurality of folding chairs stored within at least some of the storage chambers, the plurality comprising at least one folding chair for each of the individuals.

9. The system of claim 1, wherein the base unit further comprises, stored within at least some of the storage chambers: potable water in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; meal replacement drinks in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; first aid supplies; and at least one light source approved to be operated in a hazardous environment.

10. The system of claim 1, wherein each remote unit further comprises: potable water in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; meal replacement drinks in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; and first aid supplies.

11. A method for sheltering individuals in a hazardous environment, the method comprising: providing a movable, skid-mounted base unit comprising: a plurality of breathable air cylinders; a manifold for distributing air from the cylinders, the manifold comprising a plurality of ports, each port having a quick-connect fitting; an air supply control system configured to control a flow of air from the air cylinders to the manifold and to reduce an air pressure of the air from the air cylinders; and a plurality of equipment storage chambers; providing a plurality of individual breathing units stored within at least some of the storage chambers, the plurality comprising at least one breathing unit for each of the individuals, each breathing unit comprising: a positive pressure full-face air mask; a man-portable breathable air escape cylinder; a first stage regulator coupled to the escape cylinder and configured to direct air from either the escape cylinder or the manifold to the air mask; a mask air supply hose connecting the air mask and the first stage regulator; and a manifold air supply hose connecting the manifold and the first stage regulator, the manifold air supply hose having at least one quick-connect fitting; and providing a plurality of remote units, each remote unit being positioned at a predefined distance from the base unit or from another remote unit along an escape route, each remote unit comprising: a plurality of man-portable breathable air escape cylinders, the plurality comprising at least one escape cylinder for each of the individuals.

12. The method of claim 11, wherein the movable base unit is sized to fit within a mine crosscut.

13. The method of claim 11, wherein the movable base unit is skid-mounted or wheel-mounted and configured to be towable.

14. The method of claim 11, wherein the manifold comprises a fixed manifold, wherein the system further comprises a portable manifold connected to the fixed manifold via an air supply hose, the portable manifold comprising a plurality of ports, and wherein the manifold air supply hose connects the portable manifold and the first stage regulator.

15. The method of claim 11, wherein the air masks comprise a nourishment port.

16. The method of claim 11, wherein the plurality of breathable air cylinders comprise a sufficient number of cylinders to supply breathable air to the predetermined number of individuals for a predetermined amount of time.

17. The method of claim 11, wherein the predetermined amount of time is at least 96 hours to conform to mine-safety regulations of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

18. The method of claim 11, wherein the base unit further comprises: a plurality of folding chairs stored within at least some of the storage chambers, the plurality comprising at least one folding chair for each of the individuals.

19. The method of claim 11, wherein the base unit farther comprises, stored within at least some of the storage chambers: potable water in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; meal replacement drinks in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; first aid supplies; and at least one light source approved to be operated in a hazardous environment.

20. The method of claim 11, wherein each remote unit further comprises; potable water in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; meal replacement drinks in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask; and first aid supplies.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to mine safety systems, more particularly, relates to emergency shelters capable of providing adequate breathable air to enable individuals to survive and shelter in place in a hazardous environment.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Under the best of circumstances, the mining of coal and other minerals can be a very hazardous occupation. This is particularly true of those industries that extract minerals from beneath the surface of the earth. The very environment is alien to the human species.

There are the dangers of roof falls, rib rolls, the accumulation of methane, and the hazards associated with man's efforts to extract the coal: death or injury by being crushed by mining equipment, by electrocution, by inhalation of coal dust, by inhalation of rock dust, and by the concussion of dust/methane explosions and the replacement of breathable air with carbon monoxide subsequent to an explosion. There are even complications associated with carbon dioxide buildup in miners self contained self rescue devices. The recent coal mine tragedies in West Virginia, Kentucky, Mexico and China have brought to light again the extreme hazard of extracting coal from beneath the surface of the earth.

As such, there is a need for a system and method capable of sustaining the lives of miners while they await rescue . . . a period of time that can, and usually does, stretch into days.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the invention provide a mobile, modular emergency shelter (termed a “Lifepod”) which contains adequate breathable air cylinders connected to full face air masks, food, water, and first aid/medical supplies to enable a predetermined number of individuals (up to sixteen individuals in one embodiment) to survive and shelter in place in a hazardous environment, such as an underground mine containing toxic air secondary to explosions, fires, roof falls, or flooding, for a predetermined time period (up to four to five days in one embodiment) while awaiting rescue.

In one embodiment of the invention, a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment comprises a movable base unit, a plurality of individual breathing units, and a plurality of remote units. The movable base unit comprises a plurality of breathable air cylinders, a manifold for distributing air from the cylinders, an air supply control system configured to control a flow of air from the air cylinders to the manifold and to reduce an air pressure of the air from the air cylinders, and a plurality of equipment storage chambers. The manifold comprises a plurality of ports, each port having a quick-connect fitting.

The individual breathing units, which comprise at least one breathing unit for each of the individuals, are stored within the storage chambers. Each breathing unit comprises a positive pressure full-face air mask, a man-portable breathable air escape cylinder, a first stage regulator coupled to the escape cylinder and configured to direct air from either the escape cylinder or the manifold to the air mask, a mask air supply hose connecting the air mask and the first stage regulator, and a manifold air supply hose connecting the manifold and the first stage regulator, the manifold air supply hose having at least one quick-connect fitting. The air masks may comprise a nourishment port.

Each remote unit is positioned at a predefined distance from the base unit or from another remote unit along an escape route. Each remote unit comprises at least one man-portable breathable air escape cylinder for each of the individuals.

The movable base unit may be sized to fit within a mine crosscut. The movable base unit may be skid-mounted or wheel-mounted and configured to be towable.

The manifold may comprise a fixed manifold, and the system may further comprise a portable manifold connected to the fixed manifold via an air supply hose. The portable manifold comprises a plurality of ports. The manifold air supply hose connects the portable manifold and the first stage regulator of an individual breathing unit.

The plurality of breathable air cylinders comprises a sufficient number of cylinders to supply breathable air to the predetermined number of individuals for a predetermined amount of time. The predetermined amount of time may be at least 96 hours to conform to mine-safety regulations of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The base unit may further comprise a plurality of folding chairs, at least one folding chair for each of the individuals, stored within the storage chambers. The base unit further may comprises, stored within the storage chambers, potable water in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask, meal replacement drinks in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask, first aid supplies, and at least one light source approved to be operated in a hazardous environment.

Each remote unit may further comprise potable water in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask, meal replacement drinks in individual containers configured to connect to a drinking port in the air mask, and first aid supplies.

In addition to the system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment as described above, other aspects of the present invention are directed to corresponding methods for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWING(S)

Having thus described the invention in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, and wherein:

FIG. 1 is a horizontal cross-section of a mine, illustrating placement of a base unit of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a base unit of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 3 is a top view of the base unit of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4 is a right side view of the base unit of FIG. 2;

FIG. 5 is a left side view of the base unit of FIG. 2;

FIG. 6 is a front view of the base unit of FIG. 2;

FIG. 7 is a back view of the base unit of FIG. 2;

FIG. 8 is a top view of a skid on which the base unit of FIG. 2 may be mounted, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 9 is a functional block diagram of an air supply system of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 10 is a front view of an air control panel of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention; and

FIG. 11 is a top inside view of a remote unit of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which preferred embodiments of the invention are shown. This invention may, however, be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will be thorough and complete, and will fully convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout.

In one embodiment of the invention, a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment comprises a movable base unit positioned near the working face of the mine and a plurality of remote units positioned at predefined distances along an escape route. The base unit may be skid-mounted or wheel-mounted, and is therefore readily mobile. If wheel-mounted, the base unit may be mounted on rubber tires or steel wheels to enable transport by rail. The skid-mounted base unit may be conveyed from one mining section to another mining section in the bucket of a mine scoop. The wheel-mounted base unit may be towed from one mining section to another mining section, such as behind the personnel carrier that transports the miners. This ability to be easily moved within a mine enables the base unit to be moved as the mine face advances, such that the base unit may always be located near enough the working mine face to enable the miners to quickly reach the base unit in an emergency.

FIG. 1 is a horizontal cross-section of a mine 12, illustrating placement of a base unit 10 of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. During mining operations, material is removed from the working face 14. To prevent roof cave-in, material is left in place at regular intervals to form support pillars 16. Spaces between the pillars (on an axis perpendicular to the working face) are called crosscuts 18. At some of the crosscuts, temporary walls are built on both open sides of the crosscut to form a “room.” A “man-door” 20 is built into one of the temporary walls. Man-doors are mandated in a mine, typically at every fourth or fifth cross-cut. (For purposes of this application, the room, temporary walls, and man-door will be collectively referred to as a “man-door.”) The location of the man-door is carefully considered and always identified on maps of the mine.

The base unit may be placed in any crosscut that is in close proximity to the working face of the mine, in accordance with the mining plan of the individual mine. For example, the base unit 10 may be located at the most current (i.e., closest to the working face) crosscut/breakthrough at which a man-door has been constructed. The base unit, as a result of being mobile and being at the most recently constructed man-door, can be located with certainty on mine maps. This certainty enables the drilling of air holes from the surface to within a few feet of the location of the base unit (and presumably a majority of the miners). This is a significant advantage over fixed, static emergency chambers. One may drill to the location of a fixed, static emergency chamber, but the chamber may be thousands of feet from the working face where a majority of the miners will be located.

Since the base unit is mobile, the base unit will be advanced as the section advances allowing it to always be close to the working face of a mining section. A lifeline is attached to the production side of the man-door and then to an attachment point very close to the working face. The miners can follow the lifeline to the cross-cut wherein the base unit is stationed. Further, both audio and visual flashing lights may be positioned at the production side of the crosscut to further assist miners to find the base unit through thick, poisonous smoke.

Referring now to FIG. 2, a perspective view of a base unit 10 of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment is illustrated, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. The base unit 10 comprises a breathable air system designed to provide breathable air in an emergency to a predetermined number of miners (based on the anticipated number of miners working in the mine at any given time) for a predetermined amount of time (based on federal and/or state mine safety regulations). The breathable air system is described in further detail below in conjunction with FIG. 9. FIG. 2 only shows a portion of the breathable air system the plurality of breathable air cylinders 24. The number and capacity (which is based on size and gas pressure) of cylinders will depend on the predetermined number of miners and the predetermined amount of time. Typical configurations may support four, eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-two miners, and cylinders may be single-, double-, or triple-stacked. In a typical configuration, there may be two cylinders per miner to provide sufficient breathable air for ninety-six hours (more details on determining cylinder configuration are provided below). FIG. 2 illustrates sixteen cylinders. The exact layout of the cylinders will depend on the number of cylinders and the desired maximum height of the base unit (the maximum height of the base unit is based on the height of the mine seam in which the base unit will be positioned. FIG. 2 illustrates a base unit that is mounted on a skid 22. Alternatively, the base unit may be mounted on wheels to be towed from one location to another. In one exemplary embodiment, the base unit is approximately ten feet in length and nine feet in width. The base unit may have various heights depending on the seam height of the mine in which the base unit is to be placed. For example, a twenty-eight inch high base unit may be provided for use in coal seams that have a ceiling height of about forty inches, thereby giving about twelve inches of clearance between the base unit and the mine top. In another embodiment, an eighteen inch high base unit may be provided for use in coal seams having ceiling heights of about thirty inches.

The base unit 10 has a plurality of storage chambers for storing emergency supplies and for storing components of the breathable air system. In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2, there are a plurality of side storage chambers 26. The air control panel 80 (discussed in more detail below) is mounted in on the front of the unit. A miner 32 is shown wearing a full-face air mask (discussed in more detail below) and connected via an air hose to the air control panel 80 to receive breathable air. For simplicity, the miner is shown directly connected to the air control panel rather than through a portable manifold (discussed in more detail below). Front bottom chamber 30 provides storage for large supplies. The storage chambers typically contain enough low profile, reclining mesh seats to enable all of the individuals to rest while awaiting rescue, despite the low ceiling height of the mine. FIG. 2 illustrates the miner sitting in a low profile seat. The storage chambers typically also contain adequate food (typically in the form of containers of liquid nourishment and meals-ready-to-eat (MREs)) and water for five days, medical supplies, prescription medicines for five days (typically in a locked chamber), fire extinguishers, fire blankets, a communications center, lights, personal convenience items, personal floatation devices (in the event of a flooding situation), a laptop computer, a video monitoring system, and an air quality monitoring system.

It is expected that individuals may present with symptoms of physical injury, such as broken limbs, head trauma from concussive force or flying debris, eye injury, burns, electrical shock, and hemorrhage. The medical supplies will include an advanced supply of first-aid and medical survival items, medical oxygen, and folding stretchers for injured individuals who must remain in a prone position.

The base unit may further contain a strobe and camera system to be placed outside the crosscut. Both systems may be equipped with magnets that permit them to be secured to roof bolts. The camera is placed facing the intake to enable the sheltered miners to monitor activity related to a rescue effort. The strobe, camera, monitor, batteries, charger, and switches are all contained within MSHA-approved Explosion-Proof (XP) housings. All lighting is typically LED lighting,

FIG. 3 is a top view of the base unit 10 of FIG. 2, illustrating the breathable air cylinders 24, the side storage chambers 26, the front top chamber 28, and the skid 22. Not illustrated in FIG. 3 are the air lines that connect the air cylinders to the air control panel. FIG. 4 is a right side view of the base unit 10 of FIG. 2, illustrating the breathable air cylinders 24, the side storage chambers 26, and the skid 22. FIG. 5 is a left side view of the base unit 10 of FIG. 2, illustrating the breathable air cylinders 24, the side storage chambers 26, and the skid 22. FIG. 6 is a front view of the base unit 10 of FIG. 2, illustrating the front top chamber 28, the front bottom chamber 30, and the skid 22. FIG. 7 is a back view of the base unit of FIG. 2, illustrating the breathable air cylinders 24 and the skid 22.

FIG. 8 is a top view of a skid 22 on which the base unit of FIG. 2 may be mounted, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. The size, shape, and composition of the skid will vary depending on the size of the base unit and the number of air cylinders.

As mentioned above, the base unit 10 comprises a breathable air system designed to provide breathable air in an emergency to a predetermined number of miners for a predetermined amount of time. In human beings, the respiratory system comprises the airways, the lungs, and the respiratory muscles that mediate the movement of air into and out of the body. Within the alveolar system of the lungs, molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide are passively exchanged, by diffusion, between the gaseous environment and the blood. Thus, the respiratory system facilitates oxygenation of the blood with a concomitant removal of carbon dioxide and other gaseous metabolic wastes from the circulation. The system also helps to maintain the acid-base balance of the body through the efficient removal of carbon dioxide from the blood. The major function of the respiratory system is gas exchange. As gas exchange occurs, the acid-base balance of the body is maintained as part of homeostasis. If proper ventilation is not maintained, two opposing conditions can occur: 1) respiratory acidosis, a life threatening condition, and respiratory alkalosis. Upon exhalation, gas exchange occurs at the alveoli, the tiny sacs which are the basic functional component of the lungs. The alveolar walls are extremely thin (approximately 0.2 micrometers) and are permeable to gases. The alveoli are lined with pulmonary capillaries, the walls of which are also thin enough to permit gas exchange. All gases diffuse from the alveolar air to the blood in the pulmonary capillaries, as carbon dioxide diffuses in the opposite direction, from capillary blood to alveolar air. At this point, the pulmonary blood is oxygen-rich, and the lungs are holding carbon dioxide. Exhalation follows, thereby ridding the body of the carbon dioxide and completing the cycle of respiration. In an average adult, while at rest, the lungs take up about 250 milliliters (ml) (0.25 liters (1)) of oxygen every minute while expelling approximately 200 ml (0.21) of carbon dioxide. During an average breath, an adult will exchange 450 to 700 ml of air. This average breath capacity is called tidal volume. On average, an adult may breathe from 6 to 14 complete respirations in one minute. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has a requirement that miners must be provided with a minimum of 0.6223 liters (0.22 cubic feet (cu ft)) of oxygen per minute. This equals 1.32 cubic feet per hour. Converting cubic feet to liters, MSHA required rate is 37.356 liters of oxygen per hour.

The Lifepod Emergency Shelter design incorporates the usage of cylinders of breathable air connected through a central air control system, to individualized NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health)-certified, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)-compliant, full face air mask. In essence, the mask becomes an individual shelter for each miner, delivering fresh, uncontaminated breathable air to each miner.

FIG. 9 is a functional block diagram of an air supply system of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. The air supply system comprises a plurality of breathable air cylinders 40 (only two cylinders are illustrated in FIG. 9). Depending on the embodiment of the shelter being provided, the number of cylinders provided may range from eight to sixty-four. In one embodiment of the invention, the air cylinders in the base unit hold 509 cubic feet of compressed air at 6,000 pounds per square inch (PSI). At 28.3 liters of air per one cubic foot, this equates to 14,405 cubic feet of breathable air per cylinder. At five liters per minute of air flow, each cylinder provides forty-eight hours continuous hours of air. Two cylinders will deliver ninety-six hours of breathable air to a miner. The Department of Transportation (DOT) certified air cylinders will typically be HC-6000 Series Cylinders of computer-designed steel. These cylinders are high strength, light weight alloy cylinders that feature higher gas capacities that allow for longer service between filling cycles.

The air cylinders are connected via a system of air lines 42. The cylinders may be connected in series (cascaded) or in groups. The air lines may comprise rigid metal tubing, such as aluminum or stainless steel, or may comprise flexible tubing. Air flow from the cylinders is enabled via a valve 46, which is controlled by a switch on the air control panel (discussed further below in conjunction with FIG. 10). When flowing, the high pressure air (approximately 6,000 PSI) from the cylinders is regulated down to 75-150 PSI by regulator 48. A high-pressure air gauge 44 is on the upstream side of the regulator and a low-pressure air gauge 50 is on the downstream side of the regulator. The gauges will typically be glycerin-filled to prevent them from breaking from the concussion of an explosion. From the regulator, air flows to a fixed manifold 52 that is part of the air control panel and is mounted on the front of the base unit. The manifold distributes the air from the cylinders and comprises a plurality of ports 54. Each port typically has a quick-connect fitting that enables a quick connection to the manifold without having to screw a connector into the manifold. In the illustrated embodiment, six ports are provided. Four of the ports are intended to supply air to four different portable manifolds 58, via a flexible air supply hose 56, with two spare ports in case of a malfunction. Air supply hose 56 will typically be about twenty-five feet long.

In the illustrated embodiment, the portable manifold has five ports 60 with quick-connect fittings. Four of the ports are intended to supply air to four different miners, via a flexible air supply hose 62, with one spare port in case of a malfunction. Air supply hose 62 will typically be about twenty-five feet long. The number of ports on the air control panel, the number of portable manifolds, and the number of ports on each portable manifold are selected to enable the predetermined number of miners to receive air from the air supply system and to provide a desired number of spare ports in case of a malfunction. Additional ports may also be provided in case more miners than expected are in the mine and in need of breathable air. In such a situation, the breathable air will not last as long as anticipated. Additionally, extra full-face masks may be stored in the storage chambers to handle such a situation.

In one embodiment of the invention (not illustrated), the miner may connect a full-face air mask directly to a port of a portable manifold via an air supply hose. In the illustrated embodiment, a plurality of individual breathing units 64 are stored in the base unit. There is typically at least one breathing unit for each of the individuals and one or more spare units. Each breathing unit comprises a positive pressure full-face air mask 74 (with a second stage regulator 75), a man-portable breathable air escape cylinder 66, a first stage regulator 68 coupled to the escape cylinder, a mask air supply hose 72 for connecting the air mask to the first stage regulator, and a manifold air supply hose 70 for connecting the first stage regulator to a portable manifold. While FIG. 9 illustrates connecting the first stage regulator 68 to the portable manifold using two air hoses (62 and 70), this connection may alternatively be accomplished using a single air hose. Although not illustrated, each individual breathing units 64 will typically comprise a shoulder harness to enable the miners to carry them.

The first stage regulator 68 is coupled to the escape cylinder and configured to direct air from either the escape cylinder or the manifold to the air mask. The first stage regulator 68 typically receives air from the escape cylinder at up to 3000 PSI. When the escape cylinder is used, the regulator reduces the pressure from 3000 PSI down to about 75-125 PSI, which is then fed to the second stage regulator 75 on the face mask. The second stage regulator provides air at approximately 0.5 inches of water pressure (positive pressure above ambient pressure) inside the face mask of the user. The manifold air supply hose 70 hangs loose from the first stage regulator when not connected to a manifold and has a one-way check valve to allow air to flow into the open end of the hose but not out of the open end of the hose. The escape cylinder 66 has an on/off valve (not illustrated) with a pressure gauge (not illustrated) to show cylinder pressure. The valve is left in the off position when being used with supplied air from a large cylinder (i.e., when connected to a manifold). When it becomes necessary or desirable to no longer “shelter in place” but to attempt to exit the mine, the escape cylinder valve would be opened and the first stage regulator would be disconnected from the manifold. The individual breathing units enable the miners to move away from the base unit but still have safe, breathable air.

The full-face air mask is essentially the individual shelter of the miner. The mask provides each miner with the ability to be mobile to an extent. Hours of immobility of muscles, high humidity, and lack of food and water can contribute to harm or kill a miner. The mobility provided by the present invention also enables a miner to perform bodily functions.

Air circulates within the face mask to minimize fogging and reduce carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup. The mask has two one-way valves through which air is inhaled. Exhaled air is directed through a valve under the oral-nasal pocket, limiting the mixing of this air with the fresh air from the regulator. The pneumatically balanced second stage provides consistent ease of breath at any cylinder pressure. An inhalation adjustment feature allows the miner to control air delivery under a variety of situations.

Embodiments of the invention utilize a full-face air mask that is a NIOSH-approved SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) mask with a Hip Pak escape cylinder; and optionally may utilize a SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) full face mask that that is underwater rated. By providing NIOSH-approved underwater-rated full-face air masks and personal floatation devices, embodiments of the invention make it possible for individuals to survive while awaiting rescue underwater in a flooded mine.

Each full face mask is designed to be compatible with a multi-channel, single sideband communications device which includes a voice operated transmitter, four channels, earphone volumes, and squelch to enable communication among the miners. Each full face mask has a drinking port which allows a miner to receive water and liquid-based nourishment without endangering himself to toxic air by removing his full face mask to receive solid-based food. The full face masks accommodate quick-connect air line couplings. Each individual miner will be fitted for his/her own mask size and will be fully in-serviced on the safe, effective and efficient usage of the mask and its various attachments as hereinbefore described. A plurality of masks having different sizes will be maintained in the system storage compartments.

Once the miners have donned their masks and receiving breathable air, the miners can access the low profile, reclining mesh folding chairs (or in low coal seams, a cushioned pad) and wait for rescue. The individual air hoses may be strung along roof bolts, using magnetic hooks, to better distribute miners in the crosscut shelter and so that the hoses are kept above the men's feet and are not subject to being damaged. When/if the conditions are good in the shelter, the miners can stop receiving air from the cylinders. They have the option of removing the masks or they may simply disconnect the second stage and breathe through the front opening of the mask.

Current mine technology only permits a miner to utilize a one-hour-rated self-contained self-rescuer which utilizes a chemical reaction to generate a one hour supply of oxygen. Each miner is given two such devices, and additional such devices are spread throughout the mine along exit routes (if the miners are able to reach them). Embodiments of the invention enable miners to remain in a secure location with four to five days of breathable air without having to search through the mine in hazardous conditions to locate additional caches of one-hour-rated chemical-based rescue devices.

Referring now to FIG. 10, a front view of an air control panel of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment is illustrated, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. The air control panel 80 enables the miners to activate the air supply system. The air control panel also provides connections to enable connection of the portable manifolds to the fixed manifold to enable air flow to the portable manifold and ultimately to the miners. The air control panel is typically affixed (e.g., bolted) to the front portion of the front top chamber. The front top chamber is typically approximately twelve inches deep to provide sufficient space to attach the rigid metal air lines to the back of the air control panel.

As illustrated in FIG. 10, the air control panel 80 comprises a high pressure air gauge 44 and a low pressure air gauge 50 to enable the miners to verify the air pressures. The air control panel further comprises an on/off switch 82 that activates valve 46 to enable air flow from the cylinders. Several quick-connect ports 54 are provided (six are illustrated) for connecting the portable manifolds.

The breathable air cylinders in the base unit may be refilled as necessary. To facilitate this, the air control panel has a refill port 84 and a refill on/off switch 86 to direct air flowing into the refill port to the cylinders. The required air tubing and valves for such a refill operation are not illustrated.

Embodiments of the invention provide a shelter at which miners can receive needed breathable air, food, water, and rest. Additionally, the shelter enables the miners to “get their bearings,” ascertain the number and condition of miners in the shelter (physically and emotionally), monitor the post-event conditions of the mine, and develop a plan to extricate themselves from the mine. The Lifepod gives the miner both refuge from an IDLH (immediate danger to life and health) situation, and the ability to remove himself/herself to safety. To accomplish the exit from the mine, a plurality of remote units are positioned at predefined distances along an escape route. Each remote unit comprises a plurality of replacement escape cylinders (at least one escape cylinder for each of the individuals), food, water, and first-aid supplies. The remote units provide food and water needs along the escape route to keep miners nourished and hydrated, as well as provide them with additional breathable air. These replacement cylinders will typically be aluminum cylinders or cylinders manufactured from aluminum liners with carbon fiber wrapping.

Referring now to FIG. 11, a top inside view of a remote unit of a system for sheltering a predetermined number of individuals in a hazardous environment is illustrated, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. The remote unit 90 of FIG. 11 contains a predetermined number of replacement cylinders 92 and a storage chamber 94 for storing food, water, and first aid supplies.

It has been estimated that a miner can walk about one mile in one hour in a mine with a height of at least fifty-five inches. With the conditions in a post-explosive event, this is most likely going to be significantly diminished. Embodiments of the invention provide remote units at intervals not to exceed 2,600 feet from the shelter or from another remote unit. This distance provides a fifty percent safety factor. Each remote unit includes the amount of cylinders necessary to meet the needs of the miners based on the shelter design capacity.

Individual mine plans may enable a mine operation to locate a remote unit in a location that is accessible to more than one mine section. Such a remote unit may comprise enough replacement cylinders to meet the needs of miners from two or more different base units. This enable miner from two or more mining sections to converge on one remote unit and be assured that the remote unit will contain an adequate number of replacement cylinders.

Known systems for sheltering miners include the use of inflatable shelters that use 100% oxygen to maintain a safe, breathable atmosphere for miners sheltering within the inflatable shelter. The inflatable shelters initially fill the shelter with breathable air (21% oxygen) to purge dangerous gases that may have entered the shelter as it was being inflated. Then, as the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rise in the inflated shelter, lithium hydroxide curtains absorb the CO2, and pure (100%) oxygen is introduced into the shelter in maintain the internal oxygen level at a minimum of 19%. When oxygen is stored in compressed gas cylinders in the wet, damp environment of a coal mine it has the potential to be extremely hazardous. Such environmental conditions increase the likelihood of the cylinders developing leaks, either through the cylinder wall, the valve seat, or the high pressure safety disc that is present in every valve. These cylinders are typically painted supply gas cylinders made of thin-walled steel, and therefore are may be especially prone to developing leaks. A leak in such a cylinder can result in the pure oxygen draining from the cylinder in seconds. The introduction of 100% oxygen to an area with high concentrations of carbon monoxide and other hydrocarbons (e.g., coal dust) is very dangerous within a mine. Pure oxygen is dangerous because it supports combustion. While every attempt is made to eliminate sources of ignition within a mine, sparks can and do occur. The occurrence of a spark in an enclosed space that has been flooded with pure oxygen could be catastrophic. In contrast, embodiments of the present invention use cylinders of breathable air comprising only about 21% oxygen, and a leak of such breathable air would be considerably less hazardous.

While embodiments of the invention are describe herein in conjunction with underground mining applications, it should be appreciated that embodiments of the invention may be used in aboveground emergency situations that require secure shelter, breathable air, food, and water on an immediate basis.

Many modifications and other embodiments of the invention will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which this invention pertains having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed and that modifications and other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.