Chemical and Biological Profiling
Public Safety Case History: Fort Worth Fire Department uses HMB handheld detector when responding to bioterrorism threats

Typically upon arriving on-site, first-response personnel have to make a quickdecision about the disposition of the case. There were three options: No threat, potential threat, and probable threat.

Each assessment would then trigger a sequence of actions that included quarantine, obtaining lab samples (which could take up to two weeks), and following up once the lab results were in.

The difficulty with this process was that the judgments made on-site are subjective, based on the perceived nature of the substance (color, odor, etc.), and the environment in which it was located. Personnel did not have the necessary equipment to objectively determine with any degree of scientific certainty whether the substance represented a true bioterrorist threat.

Although the Ft. Worth Fire Department was armed with a “smart ticket” – which functions much like a pregnancy test in detecting suspicious materials – it was only 35 to 40 percent accurate. To increase that accuracy would require the purchase of technologies whose costs approached or exceeded five figures.

Compounding this was a logistical matter: Department personnel were spending significant time chasing down unsubstantiated reports of bioterrorism. This raised legitimate concerns over the potential that such investigations could divert manpower from the department’s core public safety obligations.

Facing all of these issues, Fire Lt. J.D. Stafford contacted BioTech, manufacturer of BioVigil's testing device.


The HMB IV replaces traditional detection methodologies with faster, more accurate procedures for measuring bacterial and fungal populations. Inexpensive and easy to operate – it requires no extensive or costly training – the HMB IV can be used as a primary testing device, an early warning system, or a quality control tool.

Stafford approached BioTech CEO Sam Cyrus and explained that he was not looking for a device that identified specific biological agents. Rather, he wanted something that could tell his people quickly and accurately whether an unknown material contained biological organisms. That would defuse most of the calls immediately, ensuring that fire personnel could still effectively function in their homeland security role without spreading the department’s resources too thin.

The problem was, no technology existed that would allow for such rapid on-site assessments. So, Cyrus – with input and direction from Stafford – set out to adapt the HMB IV for use by first responders like the Ft. Worth Fire Department.
From the outset, Cyrus knew that any such technology would have to meet two criteria. First, the procedure had to be simple enough that a first responder in protective clothing could perform tests on-site. And second, the testing device needed to be portable, with all tools and materials accessible in a single kit.
He responded with the HMB IV-SP. It was created for public safety response teams, with features designed to specifically assist emergency personnel:

  • Portability. The device weighs only a few pounds, and can be carried on-site in a self-contained case
  • Simplicity. The test can be easily performed by persons wearing protective garb. The responder simply uses a wet swab to capture some of the substance, drops the swab into a test tube, adds a few drops of reactive agent from a squeeze bottle, and in a few minutes reads the results.
  • Immediacy. Fifteen minutes after preparing the solution, the responder places the test tube into the HMB-IV-SP for a reading. This feature allows most situations to be downgraded immediately.
  • Accuracy. The answers are provided digitally, and there are no false negatives.


The HMB IV-SP has tremendous value in the context of public safety. While not a “be-all, end-all” technology, it does provide first responders with an essential tool to objectively make critical decisions based on scientific fact rather than subjective assessment. This has multiple benefits for emergency personnel.

First, it enables them to quickly separate legitimate threats from non-dangerous situations, and react appropriately. Second, it ensures that time and resources are not being unnecessarily diverted. Third, its ease-of-use, availability, and affordability maximize its value to cost-conscious municipalities. Fourth and finally, it ensures that professionals such as the Ft. Worth Fire Department can undertake their homeland security and public safety functions efficiently and effectively.