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A PASS device (Personal Alert Safety System) also known as a distress signal unit (DSU) or ADSU (Automatic Distress Signal Unit), is a personal safety device used primarily by firefighters entering a hazardous (IDLH) environment such as a burning building, which sounds a loud audible alert to notify others in the area that the firefighter is in distress.
The PASS device is normally used in conjunction with breathing apparatus, it is a small, battery powered item attached to the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) harness and enables the firefighter to summon help by means of activating a loud, piercing electronic bleeper.
Early models were only able to be activated manually, more recent PASS devices will automatically activate if the device does not detect motion for a certain short period of time, typically 15–30 seconds, so that the alert will sound if the firefighter is seriously injured or otherwise incapacitated. Some devices use a ball bearing on a track to sense firefighter movement and others use an infrared beam against a mirror mounted on a spring. When activating for a lack of motion, the PASS device will typically emit a few seconds of a muted warning that activation is about to occur, so that a firefighter who has simply been motionless for a time but is otherwise safe will be able to move slightly and thus reset the activation timer before a false activation occurs. The PASS device can also be activated manually in an emergency, such as when a firefighter is lost or trapped.
Older models of PASS devices required manual arming by firefighters prior to entering a dangerous environment. The unit was equipped with a key which when removed armed the unit. This was left outside the hazard area with an entry control officer. When the unit activated it could only be switched off by inserting this key. Current applications integrates the PASS device into the SCBA worn by firefighters so that it automatically arms when the SCBA air supply is engaged or when the SCBA is removed from its mounting bracket. These style devices are powered by battery, are easily activated while wearing gloves, and are intrinsically safe to operate in flammable or explosive atmospheres.
When activated, according to OSHA standards which apply in the United States, the PASS device emits a high-pitched audible alert of at least 95 decibels. On a fireground, the sound of an activated PASS device indicates a true emergency and results in an immediate response to rescue the firefighter(s) in distress.