These days the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) is a key piece of personal protection equipment that firefighters across the world take into a fire. Since the beginning, the primary focus and function of the SCBA in fire services has been air delivery. There have, of course, been improvements to SCBA sets over time, but they have tended to be incremental. And that has been sufficient, until now.
A changing environment
‘The nature of firefighting has changed,’ said Matthew Quigley, Global Product Group Manager, Fire Service Technology and Connectivity at MSA Safety. ‘If you view SCBA equipment as a separate component for air, you diminish the safety potential of new technology. To enable firefighters to do their job efficiently, the SCBA needs to be considered as a part of a safety technology system that is comfortable and helps to protect firefighters in the field, regardless of their size or build. In addition, you can eliminate the safety gap to protect firefighters’ lives between calls now and into the future.’
One size does not fit all
The real innovation is found in taking a modular approach to smart solutions that are fully integrated. This will allow a fire brigade to invest in new technology and provide the best protection for their firefighters as and when budgets allow. It will do away with the necessity to scrap an existing kit or pay for a complete upgrade whenever new technology is launched.
Today’s serving firefighters span people of all genders, shapes and sizes. Historically, having a smaller frame or face has left some apparatus users, including women, finding it difficult to achieve a good fit when wearing standard breathing equipment and PPE. Fortunately, the fire-protection market has recognised the issue and is changing.
To meet these expectations, flexible equipment models are now available which improve performance and security. The desire to configure breathing equipment more flexibly is also being driven by the need to consider specific use cases. For example, responding to incidents in industrial plants will often see firefighters forced to work in very confined spaces. Here, the ability to rapidly change the size, profile and configuration of compressed-air cylinders affords more effective and manoeuvrable equipment for any team on the ground.
Cleanability and enhanced hygiene
Along with the changing nature of firefighting, new worries about toxic agents and equipment hygiene also appear. Exposure to contamination and carcinogens has led to higher rates of diseases among firefighters, including cancer. The permeation needs to be considered, as well. Firefighters must properly wear the best protective gear and, more importantly, maintain, clean and disinfect it. It means that ability to safely decontaminate and clean the equipment should be done without sacrificing comfort.
Having this in mind, there are already manufacturers offering new solutions that help to enhance the hygiene of SCBA. Among the propositions, you can find harnesses made of material that is dust and water repellent, components that simply can be disassembled and reassembled, possibility to fully flush the entire SCBA at the incident. Some manufacturers even offer a complete SCBA that is machine washable without disassembly.
Communication between teams is essential
‘Currently a major focus for innovation is to ensure users have the ability to communicate easily when wearing a breathing apparatus. Connecting firefighters is a necessity and means that everyone is linked to each other both within a structure and outside to their command, as well as to their equipment status,’ added Quigley.
Cloud-based systems are now able to provide complete monitoring and transmission of data, as well as multi-gas detection and evacuation and alarm commands given by the firefighters or by the incident commander. There are also solutions that focus on thermal imaging, which are beneficial for firefighters at the scene to have an awareness of the situation and to know who from the team is in distress and needs help.
We all trust in the protection provided by firefighters and first responders. It is clear that their safety and wellbeing are crucial. No matter if it is a professional firefighter, a part-time volunteer or a trained employee responding to an emergency in a plant, they all need to be confident that the equipment they wear will help get them home safely.
For more information, go to www.MSAsafety.com