SCBA Manufacturers Plan Designs to Comply with New NFPA Standard Revisions

Alan M. Petrillo

The next editions of two National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards will impact self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), their maintenance, and testing, according to manufacturers of SCBA gear. NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services (2007 ed.), and NFPA 1852, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) (2008 ed.), will be published in 2013 and are expected to require a number of new tests and changes to several subsystems found in SCBA.

Face Piece Testing

Two new tests will affect the lens on an SCBA mask-a lens radiant heat test and a lens convective heat test.

In the lens radiant heat test, the lens will be tested to 15 kw per square meter for five minutes and must maintain positive pressure during that time while the cylinder must last 80 percent of its rated duration.

The new lens convective heat test will subject the lens to 500 degrees of preconditioning, instead of the previously required 203 degrees, during which the lens must maintain positive pressure while the cylinder must last 80 percent of its rated duration.

“We’ve changed the face piece integrity because it now has to withstand a higher level of radiant heat for a longer period of time,” says Jeff Shipley, senior product manager for Honeywell First Responder Products. “We’ve integrated that into our Warrior and Panther product lines.”

Marion Varec, public relations manager for Dräger, says that the changes to the heat tests for face plates are a positive development. “The current models of our 7000 and 5000 SCBA already have been upgraded to the 2013 standard, so we didn’t have to compromise our streamlined design or the integration of our face mask,” she says. “We think that integration offers a huge advantage to our customers instead of a bolt-on approach.”

Another big change to the standard is the standardization of the personal alert safety system (PASS) alarm sound and pattern, as well as possible telemetry performance requirements based on National Institute of Safety and Technology (NIST) research (the latter not determined as of press time).

Shipley says the PASS alarm change moves the activation from 25 percent of air remaining to 33 percent, which will require modification on most manufacturers’ SCBA units.

Shane Bray, product manager for MSA Fire, notes that public comment has been taken on the end-of-service alarm setpoint, and although the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) currently sets it at 25 percent, the change in the NFPA standard is the better rule. “The functions of PASS alarms are mechanical and electronic, whether they be bells, whistles, or vibration,” Bray says. “The PASS device sound is changing to a standard sound for prealarm and for full alarm where the device can be tracked and located electronically by its sound.”

Bray says that MSA’s Firehawk M7 SCBA, the flagship unit of the company’s offerings, is currently undergoing development and testing to meet the new PASS testing standard, as well as those for lens flame and heat resistance testing.

Other changes to the standard include a new communications test protocol changing to a speech transmission index (STI) instead of a modified rhyme test (MRT). The new speaking diaphragm has to pass the criterion of 0.45 on the STI index. Optional voice amplification must pass the criterion of 0.50 on the STI index.

Also, the new edition is expected to have a section on emergency buddy breathing system (EBBS) requirements. For SCBAs to be NFPA 1981-compliant, they must be certified by NIOSH. Until the end of August, NIOSH banned buddy breathing for firefighting applications because it felt buddy breathing put a rescuer at risk. NIOSH rescinded its objection as of August 2012 and will now certify SCBAs with buddy breathing systems, paving the way for them to achieve NFPA 1981 compliancy.

Current Innovations

Tina Deatherage, global marketing communication manager for Scott Safety, points out that firefighters have been calling for SCBAs that are lighter weight and have smaller profiles. “We recently released the new 5.5 Air-Pak SCBA that has the smallest footprint in the industry, gives a lighter form and factor, and is slimmer so it’s easier to get into tight spaces,” she says.

Deatherage also notes Scott has developed the Air-Pak NxG7, an SCBA that rests lower on the user’s hips so there’s not as much pressure on the back, and also incorporates a new snap change cylinder valve.

In terms of Scott’s mask, the company has put it through a number of transitions during the past several years and has come up with a five-point harness system that, according to Deatherage, “sits on the head better and doesn’t slip in testing. All our masks use SureSeal technology to guard against chemical, biological, radiation, and nuclear (CBRN) contamination. They are tested to military specifications.”

Mark Williamson, global product manager, supplied air products for Avon-ISI, notes his company offers a mask with an optically correct double curve visor that incorporates a heads-up display (HUD) mounted on the nose cup. “The back side is a microphone with voice amplification on all of our masks,” Williamson points out. “We also have the Air Switch mask with a built-in regulator that allows a firefighter to don the SCBA and breathe ambient air but hit a switch to breathe bottled air when ready to use the SCBA.”

Bray notes new developments at MSA include a new family of lighter weight cylinders in the 4,500-pound-per-square-inch (psi) operating range where MSA has increased the strength of its aluminum liner, allowing it to reduce the heavier carbon composite wrap used.

Future Outlook

Williamson thinks that lower profile SCBA systems are in the future for firefighters. “We have a low-profile model that involves proprietary technology,” he says, “and are working on it to make it a usable product for the fire service in the near future.”

Shipley anticipates that SCBAs in the near future will be lighter and easier to use yet still carry complex electronics that make the units smarter. “Firefighters are looking for global positioning systems (GPS) in their SCBAs, where they’ll be able to be tracked and located by a telemetry system,” Shipley says. “Honeywell recently did some great SCBA testing in North Las Vegas with our Global Locating and Navigation System for Emergency Responders (GLANSER) system, traversing a 200,000-square-foot distribution center and a large apartment building with good results in terms of accuracy.”

GLANSER can track and locate firefighters within multistory buildings, indicating the room they are in, the floor they are on, and if they need assistance. The system is being developed by Honeywell First Responder Products and the United States Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate.

Deatherage sums up what firefighters are seeking from their SCBAs. “The trends that we’re seeing from firefighters,” she says, “are they want their SCBAs to have a lower cost of ownership, be easier to use, have a redundancy of safety features, weigh less, and be more comfortable.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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