Chicago police officer invents ‘cool’ concept
by JASON MEREL
After years on the job wearing his bulletproof vest during super humid and uncomfortable summers, Chicago police officer Gareth Woods couldn’t find a product that would help prevent cops from overheating.
So he invented one.
His BluHalo ventilation system is an inflatable device designed to be worn underneath an officer’s vest and secured with hook and loop fasteners.
According to the product’s Web site at www.bluhaloshop.com, the device has a detachable hand pump for on-demand inflation of up to 1 1/2 inches, lies flat when deflated, weighs seven ounces and costs $60 on sale. It lifts the vest from an officer’s chest and back to allow for heat to dissipate and let air flow through.
“When you build up a layer of sweat under the vest, that sweat stays trapped there for your entire tour,” Woods said. “It becomes pretty stinky and uncomfortable. Some people even get skin rashes.”
In a video on the site, Woods said he was working in the 15th (Austin) Police District for several summers of “brutally hot, long, humid days.” He said he tried a few different cooling products available on the market but wasn’t satisfied with their performance.
“I’m pretty mechanically-minded so I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Woods said. “I knew it had to be inflatable. I bought a little soldering iron and some heat-sealable material and went to work cutting different shapes.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Eventually, I came up with a solid design and a shape. But I wanted to prove that it actually worked in the field so I’ve been wearing it and testing it.”
A spokesman for the department confirmed that Woods has been a sworn officer for 8 years, however the product is not officially sanctioned for use by the Chicago Police Department.
Woods said most personal items have to be approved under department policies, but he is not sure if the BluHalo would be considered an approved personal item. On his Web site he specifies that it is a device and not a garment.
According to CPD uniform policy, all uniform or equipment items are subject to the inspection of supervisory personnel.
“The good thing about it is the USA is one of the only countries that doesn’t have a federal police force so each department can make their own rules within state laws,” Woods added. He said that even if CPD ultimately decided not to allow the device, that doesn’t mean other officers around the country wouldn’t want one for themselves.
“I’ve witnessed other officers unhooking their vests and flapping it (up and down) in the front, which is not necessarily the safest thing to do,” Woods said. “If you’re flapping the vest, your hands aren’t free and the vest might not be covering vital organs.”
Woods said he’s been asked if elevating the protective vest away from the body affects its effectiveness but he said the space created by the product is roughly the same as when officers wear thicker clothing beneath their vests in the winter and vital organs are still protected by the vest.
“Now I’m working on becoming the first self-contained active cooling system,” Woods said.
He said the next step is to add forced air into the device and lightweight, clip-on fans are readily available on the market but the challenge has been directing the airflow properly. Woods said he is testing a prototype for a personal fan that attaches to the bottom of the front of the protective vest and directs air around the bottom and upward into the space.
“In my line of work, very often your attitude determines the outcome of the situation,” Woods said. “If you can be a little bit more comfortable, less irritated and have a better attitude, then it’s going to be a total game changer.”