The Ultimate VK-530 Filter Guide
The summer of 2023 has officially been declared the warmest on record by NASA. Indeed, if you’ve been keeping up with the MIRA Safety blog, you’re well aware of the perils we’ve endured as a result of this. From flash drought to Foehn winds, we’ve experienced an unprecedented and arduous season.
As a further testament to this, temperatures in Florida recently rose above triple digits, effectively turning ocean water into hot tub water. In fact, rough estimations from officials indicate that these water temperatures could be the hottest ever recorded in seawater.
Alongside this, we watched as Lahaina, Hawaii burned to cinders in the wake of Hurricane/Typhoon Dora. As intense winds drove moisture from vast swathes of grasslands, the island was transformed into a veritable tinderbox.
Yosemite National Park, too, fell victim to wildfires, with The Pika Fire razing over 840 acres of protected land. Courtesy of lightning strikes and low rainfall, this blaze pushed its local Air Quality Index over the 300 rating, indicating high particulates.
This is not the only wildfire trouble California has experienced, however. In total, the state has witnessed a startling 5,600 wildfires in 2023. With 275,000 acres burned, thirty-three buildings demolished, and a total of four lives lost, the threat is palpable. Long gone are the halcyon days–before U.S. wildfires quadrupled in size and tripled in frequency.
Meanwhile, to the north, Canada’s record-breaking fires produced 290 million metric tons of emissions. Consequently, smoke billowed into many American cities, blanketing the sky with hazy fog and tanking air quality. Concerns about smoke inhalation then began to permeate news reports, prompting many to sit up and take notice.
But with all this smoke in the air, what does one do to ensure their family’s safety and wellbeing? If you’re a savvy survivalist, you act. Research, shop around, and find a solution. We’re doers, after all, and doers don’t half-ass it.
MIRA Safey’s core mission statement is “to provide industry professionals and the general public with uncompromising equipment for personal protection, utility, and comfort.” Today, we’re here to do just that.
The VK-530 Smoke / Carbon Monoxide Smoke Filter is MIRA Safety’s premiere solution to smoke inhalation woes. Boasting superior protection and usability, you won’t need to wonder about your answer to deadly carbon monoxide–we’ve got you covered. That's because, with this specialized filter, you can turn any compatible gas mask into a versatile smoke hood.
So today, we’ll explore the dangers associated with smoke inhalation, and the continued wildfire threat, and break down what you need to know about choosing a filter.
Table of Contents
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
The Inciting Incident
The Air Quality Index
Carbon Monoxide/John Cena
The VK-530 Filter
Fire in Mendocino National Forest, CA, Sep 16, 2020. (Image courtesy of Noah Berger/AP Photo)
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
At the time of writing (October 1st), there are 387 active wildfires across fourteen states. And while each fire has its own set of variables, the commonality among them is a mix of climate change and drought.
For context, warming oceans give rise to a plethora of instabilities in our delicate environment. That means that as ocean temperatures rise, hurricanes and typhoons become “energized,” producing more powerful and devastating storms.
Consequently, storms of this magnitude begin to reshape weather patterns–turning our little blue marble into a much more chaotic home.
The aforementioned fire in Lahaina, Hawaii is a notable example of such chaos. Hurricane Dora’s invigorated winds disrupted regular Hawaiian trade winds, whipping them into a fury. These trade winds then collided with Maui and facilitated the Foehn effect.
Essentially, these winds blew over high mountainous regions, became extremely dry, and were funneled down the slopes. It was in this way that dry, high-powered, warm winds sapped all moisture from Lahaina–ultimately leading to its flash drought.
It’s not just islands in the Pacific that suffer from sudden onset drought, however. Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for instance, was ravaged by a flash drought in 2016. During its three month duration, Gatlinburg’s drought worsened two-fold and led to the destruction of 17,000 acres of land. Left in the wake were 700 homes, and fourteen lives.
It starts somewhere. (Image courtesy of Sergeyparser, Freepik)
The Inciting Incident
With ample fuel, wildfires need but one last element: a spark.
Along with more powerful winds, energized weather also produces higher occurrences of lightning. Dry lightning, in particular, is born from low humidity and high winds–creating the ideal conditions for a rapid electrical discharge.
As polarities begin to charge between the ground and clouds, the insulating properties of air fail. It is at this moment that lightning is born: A 50,000-degree rod of light descends upon dry kindling at 270,000 mph–and we’ve got fire.
Of course, if it’s not lightning causing a wildfire, the human touch is there to pick up the slack. Up to 90% of wildfires, after all, are credited to either careless or negligent human factors. Be it through unattended campfires, cigarette butts, or poorly maintained vehicles, human beings are often to blame.
In this vein, burning vegetation, or prescribed burning, is another fateful cause of wildfires. Accordingly, these methods of disposing of lawn trimmings or preemptive safety land-burning are best left to the professionals. When untrained amateurs decide to play with fire, we all suffer.
Smokey the Bear is probably rolling over in his den.
I’m sorry Smokey. We should have listened. (Image courtesy of David Horsey, the Seattle Times )
The Air Quality Index
Graphic of the Air Quality Index. (Image courtesy of bazallery.com)
Before we dive into smoke filters and how a smoke hood works, we must first assess the threat smoke inhalation poses.
To begin with, being cognizant of your local area’s air quality index is a must. This is because it serves as a guide for what your response to poor conditions should be.
An AQI of fifty indicates that your local area is mostly safe, and minimal risks exist.
At 151+, individuals will want to stay tuned to their alert system, and take precautions while venturing out.
Once an AQI reaches 201+, the general public is at risk due to air quality, and should respond accordingly.
Oftentimes, wildfire smoke will cause an area’s AQI to quickly rise well above 201+. As such, your best bet is to assume that a smoke threat exists anytime a wildfire is burning.
It goes without saying that smoke is bad for you. And while many different types of smoke exist, they all have a common mechanism of harm.
Smoke inhalation, put simply, is when we breathe in the byproducts of a combustion fire.
These heated particles and gasses irritate our mucous membranes, making it impossible to breathe and, often, hard to see. As our respiratory tract becomes inflamed, airways swell and we struggle to breathe. Consequently, our respiratory structures begin to collapse, and the delicate alveoli in our lungs can no longer absorb oxygen.
Smoke exposure also lends itself to a large list of respiratory and cardiovascular issues. One such condition, cancer, is specifically noted by a 2023 study.
It states that lung cancer patients are especially susceptible to further harm from wildfire exposure. This analysis is dovetailed by the findings of a 2022 study, which states that wildfire smoke is causing higher rates of cancer in the general population.
The researchers compare wildfire smoke to diesel exhaust and cigarettes. This is because particulates irritate as severely as chemicals, and heavy metals are as present in wildfire smoke as they are in cigarettes.
Of course, depending on the temperature of the fire and the nature of its fuel, chemical pollutants will carry more dire consequences for our lungs. Carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, for instance, disrupt our cell’s ability to carry oxygen. As a result, our cells die, and we are left to asphyxiate.
In a 1994 study, wood fires were shown to release more carbon monoxide than natural gas fires. This finding indicated that carbon monoxide presents a higher threat in building or enclosure fires. Or in the case of wildfires–well, you get it.
Thankfully, the symptoms of smoke inhalation are easily recognizable–best mitigated by avoidance or smoke protection. They include:
Coughing: Caused by mucus overproduction as a response to irritated airways, an exposed individual will cough on reflex. Remember to be aware of mucus color, as it may give an indicator of exposure severity.
Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing or increased respiratory response to low-effort physical exertion is a key indicator of smoke inhalation. When this occurs, the lungs are displaying a degradation of oxygen absorption, and as such will try to compensate by hyperventilating.
Breathing sounds : Irritated vocal cords, air or fluid in the lungs, and/or restricted airflow will cause a variety of altered breathing noises.
Rales: This refers to clicking, bubbling, or rattling sounds in the lungs when inhaling.
Rhonchi: This respiratory sound is an indication of large airways in distress, and resembles snoring.
Stridor: “Stridor” points toward a potential blockage in the throat from inflammation, and sounds like a high-pitched inhale.
Wheezing: We all know what is meant by “wheezing,” right? Indicative of a narrowed airway, it is marked by high-pitched noises upon exhaling.
Eyes: Red, teary eyes will present as a result of external irritants in the environment.
Physical signs: Take note of external burns, soot near the mouth or nose, and cherry-red lips.
Mental symptoms: Smoke inhalation will commonly result in confusion caused by hypoxia. A general feeling of fatigue and malaise may accompany a smoke casualty.
On the topic of mental symptoms, we would be remiss to not delve into the topic of smoke brain.
Could smoke brain fry your synapses? (Image courtesy of Alyssa Valentin/ clearbrookinc.com)
While the acute symptoms of smoke inhalation present immediately or quickly, the chronic issues caused by smoke exposure are more sinister.
This condition is called "smoke brain," which refers to the inflammation a brain experiences after being exposed to a smoke environment. When afflicted, the brain’s most sensitive region, the hippocampus, falls victim to this inflammation in the form of encephalitis.
Inflammation, summarized, is the body’s response to infection or injury. When it occurs, white blood cells rush to an afflicted area and cause a traffic jam. This brings about swelling and associated pain.
The hippocampus also bears explanation, as this is the brain structure that controls memory, attention, and learning. All of the above, of course, are critical to a high quality of life. As such, smoke inhalation, and the associated inflammation it causes, can lead to prolonged difficulty concentrating, retaining new information, and mood instability.
Bear in mind, too, that wildfire smoke and its various chemical compositions have also been linked to an increased chance of dementia and Alzheimer's as well. Additionally, pesticides and other pollutants have been directly linked to a downward spiral of cognitive ability in those who are chronically exposed.
But what about the other chemicals produced in a fire? Namely, carbon monoxide. What exactly is that all about, besides that pesky flier you get from your local fire department biannually?
Allow us to explain.
Carbon Monoxide/John Cena
Have you checked your carbon monoxide alarm batteries lately? (Image courtesy of Pixabay via MGN)
While carbon monoxide is produced in wildfire smoke, it's also created through a variety of other means.
And because it is a colorless, odorless, invisible killer, it is highly encouraged to install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, especially near any source of heat.
If this gas had a catchphrase, it would be: “You can’t see
That means—be it your car exhaust in the garage, your boiler in your utility room, or near your living room fireplace—you may be closer to a source of carbon monoxide than you realize.
But who is most at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning? That’s easy–everyone. If you own a water heater, a grill, or a refrigerator, you’re vulnerable. It doesn’t end at home, either–your workplace may also be an avenue of exposure.
As such, anyone who works around vehicles, in an industrial work center, or certain trade skill workers should ensure that they stay up-to-date with the current goings-on in their buildings.
Granted, your employer is obligated to adhere to the OSHA standards for carbon monoxide protection, but we all know that there’s a difference between what should be–and what is. As a result, carbon monoxide exposure can occur at any time, which is why we must familiarize ourselves with the symptoms–otherwise, we won’t be of much help.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure can include, but are not limited to:
Nausea and vomiting
Note, too, that our pets can experience carbon monoxide symptoms. So if not for yourself and your family, keep your furry friends in mind.
But first, of course, you’ll need to save yourself. So what should you do if you find yourself in a carbon monoxide environment?
Well, keep in mind that your first step in any emergency is the preservation of your own life. You can’t help anyone else if you’re dead, after all. It is best, therefore, to evacuate the area immediately and safely, then contact the professionals via 911.
When on the phone, take note of the affected individuals' weight, age, and condition. It is also helpful to tell the operator how long someone has been exposed to carbon monoxide, as it can help first responders in their triage efforts.
Remember: carbon monoxide is a threat that we live with every day. It would be wise, therefore, to arm ourselves with every possible advantage.
The first line of defense is always carbon monoxide detectors and the associated battery checks. The next should be in your bug-out bag.
A2B2E2K2HgNO2COP3R - What?
MIRA Safety VK-530 Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Filter
Whether you’re a seasoned professional trained to operate in hazardous environments, or a savvy survivalist looking to stay abreast of any potential threats, the VK-530 is the filter you need.
First, a few formalities. When purchasing a filter, one should pay special attention to a few different metrics. Obviously, you’ll want to find the right filter to match the threat.
This begins with consulting the filter’s particulate filtration, which is an indicator of the filter’s ability to filter airborne particles and aerosolized threats.
P1- at least 80% filtration
P2- at least 94% filtration
P3- at least 99.95% filtration
The next metric is filter classification. Simply put, this is what the filter is designed to protect you from. Note that filters can be classed as multi-threat or specific threats. The best way to identify your filter of choice is to take note of the corresponding color bands attached to your filter.
With this in mind, let’s break down the VK-530 rating of A2-B2-E2-K2-Hg-NO2-COP3-R.
A2 - Brown band, effective against organic compounds with a boiling point above 65°C.
B2 - Grey band, effective against inorganic gasses and vapors like chlorine and hydrogen sulfide vapors/particles.
E2 - Yellow band, effective against sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid vapors/particles.
K2 - Green band, effective against ammonia vapors/particles.
Hg - Red/white band, effective against mercury vapors/particles.
NO - Blue/white band, effective against nitrous gasses, nitrogen monoxide, and particles.
COP3 - Black/white band, effective against carbon monoxide and particles.
All that fancy word salad to say that the VK-530 offers various protections, but specializes as a carbon monoxide/smoke filter.
It’s important to remember that your gas mask filter should be treated well. And while many filters offer shock protection, that doesn’t mean you’ll want to be playing catch with them.
Note that filters commonly have multiple layers inside of their housing, usually containing a large surface carbon filter and a dense fiber filter. Naturally, this means that the assembly and construction of a high-quality filter is a process requiring intense expertise and attention to detail.
So don’t leave it somewhere where it’s prone to be bombarded by heavy objects. After all, it may be very convenient to keep a bug-out bag easily accessible, but the upper shelf of a closet is nevertheless a better storage location than your living room table.
And yes, we know–we get all fired up when we watch survival shows, and want to break out the kit to show off. Just remember to keep a good inventory and put it back when you’re done.
Bear in mind, too, that the VK-530 is also a heavier filter, weighing in at 490 g. As such, you’ll want to equip this filter with a full-face mask instead of a half-face respirator. That’s because using a filter that’s not rated for your gas mask can result in a poor seal, compromising your protection.
A final word of wisdom? While the VK-530 is rated and used to ensure your safety in a fire/smoke situation, you won’t want to be sticking your face near any flames. Rubber masks are still susceptible to fire, after all, so less watching and more moving!
The VK-530 Filter
The VK-530 offers a direct counter to the wildfire smoke threat. As the premiere MIRA Safety smoke filter, the VK-530 offers the highest level of carbon monoxide protection available. Offering Class 2 protection against all generic pollutants, and Class 3 filtration against carbon monoxide particles, you can rest assured you’ll make it out of a smoke-rich environment.
That’s because the VK-530 affords the wearer a crucial thirty minutes to plan, arrange, and execute an escape solution from a carbon monoxide or smoke environment.
These advanced filters turn any compatible gas mask into an effective smoke hood. Traditionally, smoke hoods were a separate piece of equipment one would need to allocate space for in their go bag. Now, you’ll be able to save space and stay safe with one simple solution.
Not to be overlooked, too, is that this filter affords protection from various gasses and hazards that may be present in wildfire smoke. Bear in mind that a standard smoke hood will only protect you from the physical particulates and gasses of traditional smoke.
Note that storing your gas filter in its original sealed packaging ensures cleanliness and longevity. Accordingly, the product’s five-year shelf life can be ensured by keeping your filter away from high humidity (80% and above) and extremely cold or warm storage areas.
MIRA Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask - Full-Face Respirator
The MIRA Safety CM-6 is the perfect accompaniment to the VK-530.
Compatible, durable, and relied on by governments and militaries worldwide, the CM-6M is the gas mask of choice by professional operators. And with a twenty-year shelf life, it guarantees your readiness when smoke or carbon monoxide begins to creep through your property.
Don’t find yourself rushing to find a smoke hood–have your cake and eat it too with this two-birds, one-stone combo. With a VK-530, your trusted CM-6M transforms into a smoke hood and an effective barrier to hazardous toxins/chemicals.
The Fire Escape Pro Kit
Also included is MIRA Safety’s drop-leg pouch, which provides a convenient means of affixing your kit to any MOLLE-compatible bag, or your body. Rounding out the kit is a 900 mL canteen, perfect for hydration and treating injuries.
Remember: if you’re just starting a go bag, or making a highly specialized kit, this is your perfect jumping-off point.
Smoke and carbon monoxide are a permanent threat to human safety. There’s no conceivable way to eliminate either from the world–not yet, anyway. And with the encroaching collapse of the Gulf Stream, climate change isn’t slowing down either.
What we can do, however, is continue moving forward safely. After all, if we want solutions for tomorrow, we’ve got to make it through today.
As such, we must ensure we’re prepared for any unseen threats creeping just outside of our everyday purview.
Be it a wildfire on the horizon, or a leaky hot water heater downstairs, make sure you’re armed and equipped with the VK-530 filter and accompanying gear from MIRA Safety.