While current the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) used by firefighters in low oxygen environments provides them with air to breathe, they are heavy, bulky, and present snag hazards. Consequently, firefighters and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) issued a requirement for a next-generation SCBA that is lighter and smaller, increases first responders’ mobility, reduces their fatigue, and has a sleeker profile to both minimize snag and entanglement hazards and to enable them to work more easily in confined spaces. IAFF also envisions the new SCBA as having plastic instead of metal cylinders (thereby reducing shrapnel effects if the cylinders are punctured or otherwise compromised) which are mounted on a backframe that shifts much of the SCBA’s weight from the firefighters’ shoulders to their hips. The target customers for the technology are local, tribal, state, and federal firefighters.
Through a partnership with the IAFF and industry partners, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s First Responders Group (FRG) developed a prototype SCBA pressure vessel technology that addresses all the stated requirements and, in addition, is compatible with current SCBA ensembles from all manufacturers. A Preliminary Field Evaluation with the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Training Academy assessed the new SCBA’s form, fit, and function. Based on recommendations gathered during the evaluation, several improvements were made to the prototype. These included:
- Reconfiguring the placement of components, including the combination first stage regulator, valve, and gauge, to improve SCBA’s profile, center of gravity, and ease of use
- Redesigning the pressure array cover to reduce, if possible, snagging hazards at the top corners and at the gauge/primary regulator site
- Reducing the length of the unit. Participants in the evaluation noted that, when climbing a ladder and entering a window, they found that the bottom of the prototype tended to catch on the window frame. The length of the unit is governed mainly by the length of the pressure vessel array.
- Increasing the stability of the SCBA on the wearer’s back by moving the top strap attachment points on the harness toward the center line of the prototype and repositioning or improving the adjustability of the waist strap
- Improving the ease of removing and replacing the pressure vessel array, and
- Integrating methods for connecting the pressure vessel array to SCBA components that permit a variety of refilling options.