By Scott M. Bruner
FireRescue1 Product Editor
WASHINGTON — The next evolution for SCBA is one step closer to being in the firehouse. The International Association of Fire Fighters and the Department of Homeland Security have selected MSA to begin work on a prototype of new SCBA built on pressure-vessel technology.
It is designed to eliminate much of the weight of current breathing apparatus, thereby reducing the impacts of working in high stress and heat conditions.
"The opportunity to be involved in the development of revolutionary new SCBA technology — at a ground level with the IAFF — is a partnership of which we are most proud to be associated," William Lambert, MSA president and CEO, said.
The IAFF received a grant for more than $2.7 million from the DHS in 2008 for research into the new technologies, and sent out requests for proposals to a number of manufacturers to build the prototype.
"Our evaluation panel selected MSA because of the work they've been doing, and the timeline they proposed to us," Rich Duffy, Assistant to the General President at the IAFF, said.
The new SCBA are known as "flat packs," and use a special high-temperature lining, consisting of Kevlar, and are wound with carbon fiber, instead of the conventional aluminum liners used in current technology. They can handle operating pressures up to 5,000 psi and include a soft cover that allows them to bend and flex during use.
Also, if a flat pack ruptures, it doesn't present the same fragmentation danger of a conventional unity. Instead, a punctured vessel can vent the contained air, without the risk of an explosion.
The prototype is designed to incorporate a pressure-vessel into a breathing apparatus to prove it's a viable – and ultimately safer – SCBA method. The profiles of the smaller packs are much smaller than conventional SCBA units as well – the pressure vessels measure only two inches in depth, compared to the conventional seven inches.
Perhaps the greatest advantage, however, is the significant weight reduction that flat packs could potentially offer. Vulcore Industrial, out of Fort Wayne, Ind., which designed the pressure vessels that MSA will be using, was able to reduce the weight of the vessels themselves by approximately 60 percent.
"This is one of the most significant health and safety projects the IAFF has ever undertaken because this new SCBA technology will do more to protect the lives of firefighters," IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger said.
The IAFF expects the first prototype to be built by MSA by Sept. 30, and then field testing will follow. The unit will be tested by a team of evaluators that includes 12 firefighters and two law enforcement officers.
"You can do all the work you want in the laboratory but until a firefighter tests it, we won't know if it works in the field," Duffy said.
If the technology is proven it can work, the IAFF is hoping the industry will begin to manufacture and provide the units commercially, not unlike what happened when the original SCBA designs were designed, tested, and released in the 1970s.