News | Damage Control: Banana chair inventor creates new meth-detecting gadgets for cops and homebuyers 

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Salt Lake City inventor and businessman R.S. Dean has, up until now, one great claim to fame: the invention of the banana chair. An inveterate optimist, Dean will tell you that his banana chair and the inclining model he’s hoping to put out soon are all “pretty neat.” But, lately, Dean has interested Utah law enforcement brass in some technology he also considers pretty neat—a set of meth-detecting gadgets. His inventory includes home kits that can detect if apartments and homes were former methamphetamine labs, as well as detection badges to warn police officers and first responders upon entry of a building if the site is contaminated.

“We’re trying to help these officers that have been hurt, and we’re going to do it,” says an enthusiastic Dean. “Besides, they’re always there to save us.”

Dean has collaborated with a team of engineers and designers in a matter of a few months to bring forth the meth-detector technology. It’s a simple idea hatched into a fully functional prototype, and now Dean hopes to market his detectors to law-enforcement professionals in Utah and the rest of the country. So far, he’s been working with state agencies ranging from the Commissioner of Public Safety’s Office to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

“My personal opinion is that this technology is absolutely state of the art,” says Scott Duncan, commissioner of Utah Public Safety. Duncan is also a member of the Utah Meth Cop project, a coalition of law enforcement and research partners who, since September 2007, has been working to get detoxification treatment for police and emergency responders who have been exposed to toxic meth chemicals.

“It has the potential of not only helping law enforcement but also the common citizen in a situation where meth may have been used,” Duncan says, adding that Public Safety is interested in the product but will wait until it hits the market before finalizing any purchase deals.

Law enforcement authorities are especially interested in Dean’s first responder’s detector, which would give law enforcement a better idea of the meth-toxicity levels of homes they enter during raids.

“The mobile meth detector is kind of like an old time deputy’s badge,” says Dean, of the detector he’s marketing specifically for first responders. “They can wear it on their chest and it lets them know how toxic it is inside [a home or building], and they can then use their judgment as to whether or not they need to stay inside or for how long.”

“I’m currently going through meth detoxification right now,” says Lt. Bob Shober of the West Jordan Police Department. Shober was exposed during raids in the 80s, before the dangers to police were fully realized. “I think any technology like this can be very useful.” Shober points out, however, the need may not be as pressing, since meth labs have been on the decline since recent crackdowns.

Dean has also created a home detector available to the public ($39.95) that he says can detect if a residence was a former meth lab. “Anyone can use it—realtors, the public, it’s pretty neat.” The other device is a simple paper strip that Dean says can test an individual to see if he or she has used meth recently. “Meth is so toxic that if a person used it long enough, that when they sweat, it will stain their shirt orange.” With the paper strip, a chemical mixes with trace elements of meth secreted from a person’s skin glands, and changes color to identify whether the person has used meth recently.

Dean, who’s been in the upholstery business for more than 30 years, finds making inventions a fun challenge but a lot of work. “Yeah, I heard the idea [meth detection] mentioned in USA Today once, and I took it and ran with it and after many, many, many hours of work, we got ourselves a pretty neat deal!”

Unlike other inventors, however, Dean isn’t looking for name recognition. In fact, he mostly credits his team. “I’m just one piece of the puzzle. Where I’m weak, they’re strong, and where they’re weak, I’m pretty OK,” Dean says with a chuckle. Besides his engineers and law enforcement contacts, Dean is indebted to his other silent partner.

“I get my inspiration from the Lord. I don’t know anything, I’m just an upholstery guy. I owe him big-time for clueing me in to his intellectual side.”

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