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Elkton company is busy after bombing Mask might have helped those at N.Y. trade center


ELKTON -- Essex Portable Breathing and Rescue Products Corp., a small Elkton operation, couldn't have timed the introduction of its new emergency breathing device any better.

Four days after the product's unveiling, a bomb went off under the World Trade Center in New York, sending smoke up through the 110-story building and setting off a cascade of phone calls to Essex PB&R; for the new device, called Plus 10.

"We've been constantly busy," said Steven D. Luthultz, general manager for the company. Temporary help had to be hired to handle the hundreds of calls that have come in since the disaster. "It was coincidental that we saw a situation where it could have been used," he said.

Located in a one-story building in Elkton, Essex PB&R; is a subsidiary of Essex Industries Inc., a St. Louis-based defense contractor, which bought the operation from Du Pont in 1990. The Elkton operation recorded sales of $3 million last year, selling 5,000 of the company's other breathing devices for airlines, corporate aircraft and rescue efforts. The Plus 10 is its first product to be aimed directly at the consumer market.

And Mr. Luthultz and the other 16 workers at the Elkton plant hope the World Trade Center blast and other well-publicized disasters will convince consumers that they need the Plus 10 on airplanes, at work in a high rise or even at home. "Just like your smoke detector, this should become part of your personal protection," Mr. Luthultz said.

Because of the New York City bombing, the company will be running advertisements next week in the New York Times and Crain's New York Business.

In April, ads will go into Pittsburgh and Westchester County, N.Y., regional editions of Sports Illustrated, Business Week, Time and U.S. News & World Report. Those editions were chosen because of the concentration of frequent business travelers in those areas, said Lisa M. Barros, marketing manager for the company.

But even as Essex PB&R; is promoting the device as a standard safety device, there is debate in the firefighting community over whether they should be encouraged.

The National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit group of businesses and agencies involved in firefighting, does not recommend that consumers buy such personal filter masks. "Fire protection built into a building is what we would like to see emphasized," said Julie Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the group.

She also said such devices might give people a false sense of security, delaying their escape.

However, the International Association of Fire Chiefs passed a resolution last year saying there is an urgent need for civilian respiratory protection and called for standards to be set for such devices.

Mr. Luthultz disputes the National Fire Protection Association's contention that his company's device might interfere with someone escaping. "Having the unit on your head can't hurt you," he said.

"We don't sell the unit and say 'Stay inside.' We say 'Get out.' "

The Plus 10 is a large clear bag with an elastic band around its opening. After the bag is put over the head, a person breathes through the filter box on the front of the bag. The device does not have its own air or oxygen supply.

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