Avon-ISI Rolls Out the Red Carpet

By Chris Mc Loone

Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Associate Editor Chris Mc Loone
Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Associate Editor Chris Mc Loone gets briefed on Avon-ISI’s Viking Z Seven SCBA before entering the SCBA confidence trailer.

I recently returned from a trip to Avon-ISI, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Mark Williamson and Christopher Webb opened Avon-ISI’s doors to Fire Engineering and Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment for a presentation on Avon-ISI, a factory tour, and hands-on demonstration of the company’s Viking Z Seven self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

Insiders’ Look
The day began with a presentation on Avon-ISI, its business segments, and its gradual rebranding as Avon Protection. The rebranding part is important. The company is working hard to get the word out about it. It’s been a gradual process since ISI became part of Avon Protection back in 2005. Although the brand name has changed, culminating soon with a change to Avon Protection, Mark Williamson, global product manager, supplied air products, says the company remains at the forefront of integrating the latest technology into its SCBA. One example he cites is ISI being the first to market a heads-up display (HUD) for its SCBA masks.

Williamson also discussed how Avon-ISI is becoming a global company. By virtue of Avon Protection Systems’ acquisition of the company, Avon-ISI automatically became global. To this end, the company has worked to have its products comply with European standards. In the realm of SCBA, packs manufactured for United States fire departments have more features than fire departments in the United Kingdom, for example. According to Williamson, European firefighting tactics differ from those in the United States to the point that certain features of the SCBA aren’t necessary.

From this presentation, we went to Avon-ISI’s factory floor for a tour revealing the company’s manufacturing facility as well as a sneak peak at Avon-ISI’s new SCBA being designed to comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit SCBA for Emergency Services (2013 ed.).

Hands-On Demonstration

After lunch, we traveled to the Douglas County Fire Training Center for a hands-on demonstration of the current Viking Z Seven SCBA and the company’s EchoTracer firefighter locator system. Under the supervision of Instructor and Douglas County Firefighter Travis Major, I and another Douglas County firefighter went through Douglas County’s SCBA confidence trailer—a unit designed and constructed by Avon-ISI and donated to the department. This two-level confidence course, allows firefighters to maneuver through an obstacle course in conditions similar to what they’ll find at structure fires. Although I’ve gone through safety and survival training with similar obstacle courses, these evolutions have always taken place inside burn buildings, so this was a new experience for me.

Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Associate Editor Chris Mc Loone Avon-ISI's EchoTracer firefighter locator system
The first evolution inside the SCBA confidence trailer was on the first level of the trailer. Here, Mc Loone emerges after completing the first evolution. The second evolution took place on the second level of the trailer and involved using Avon-ISI’s EchoTracer firefighter locator system.

Some of the takeaways from the two evolutions I participated in—one on the first level, one on the second level with the TIC and locator system—are all about knowing your SCBA. This sounds obvious, but it goes beyond just knowing how to don and operate. Major started off by asking, “Are you familiar with these packs?” I replied yes because my company had used them in the past. He asked, “Are you familiar with the most comfortable way to wear them?” That is a question born from using something over and over, putting it to the test, and coming up with something that works for everyone. And, in this case, it worked for me. The way he suggested wearing the pack was perfect. Intimate knowledge of your SCBA is going to make it easier to don and partially doff in situations where removing a strap or passing the SCBA through an opening is the only way to maintain forward progress when navigating through a structure.

But more important that knowing your SCBA is knowing SCBA in general. Know how SCBA is generally constructed, and what NFPA standards call for. Because in a confined situation, if you need to remove a strap or help a fellow firefighter put a strap back on, knowing SCBA inside and out will make this stressful operation go more smoothly. The second floor of this SCBA confidence trailer featured the obstacles where partially removing an SCBA was the only way to get through. I made a mistake not putting one of my shoulder straps back on before sliding down one of the obstacles. I found my waist strap around my knees—which would have happened with any SCBA. It made redonning the SCBA quite a challenge.

Many thanks to Avon-ISI for letting me participate in the hands-on demonstration and the hospitality it showed me at its Lawrenceville, GA facility. I learned a lot about Avon-ISI’s operation as well picking up a few new ideas for a confidence maze for my own department and some techniques for getting through such mazes.

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