Austin African American Firefighters Association





Because of repeated incidents of firefighters being overcome by smoke when attempting to put out fires in his hometown of Cleveland, Garrett Morgan wanted to do something to help.

In 1912, Morgan received a patent on a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector. Two years later, a refined model of this early gas mask won a gold medal at the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety, and another gold medal from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Morgan's safety hood a breathing device consisting of a canvas hood placed over the head. A double tube extended from the hood and merged into a single tube at the back. The open end held a sponge soaked with water to filter out smoke and to cool incoming air.

Shortly after receiving his patent, Morgan had a chance to put his invention to the test. On July 25, 1916 a tunnel was being constructed under Lake Erie. One night, there was an explosion in the tunnel. Three separate rescue parties entered the tunnel -- and never came out again. In desperation, officials familiar with Morgan and his device summoned him.

Morgan rushed to the scene wearing only pajama bottoms and carrying four of his safety hoods. Police and firefighters, having seen their compatriots descend into the smoky hole never to return, refused to go into the tunnel. Morgan, his brother and two volunteers put on the hoods and went in.

Morgan and his crew went into the tunnel again and again, pulling suffocating workers and rescuers to safety. Morgan even helped save the superintendent of the tunnel project by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him.

The feat gained much publicity for Morgan, winning him numerous medals and helping him sell his invention to fire departments across the country.

Morgan made national news for using his gas mask to rescue several men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel beneath Lake Erie. Following the rescue, Morgan's company was bombarded with requests from fire departments around the country that wished to purchase the new life-saving masks. The Morgan gas mask was later refined for use by U.S. soldiers during World War I.

As word spread across North America and England about Morgan's life-saving inventions, such as the gas mask and the traffic signal, demand for these products grew far beyond his home town. He was frequently invited to conventions and public exhibitions around the country to show how his inventions worked.

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