SCBA Makers Expect NFPA Compliancy for New Systems

Alan M. Petrillo

Five manufacturers of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) have introduced new firefighting SCBA lines that address issues of weight management, comfort, and voice intelligibility as well as meet changes necessitated by the 2013 versions of two National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards: NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, and NFPA 1852, Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).

Standards Revisions

The 2013 versions of NFPA 1981 and 1852 require a number of new tests and changes to several subsystems found in SCBA. These include lens radiant heat and lens convective heat tests on SCBA mask lenses.

In the lens radiant heat test, the lens is 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 lens convective heat test subjects 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.

MSA Fire M7 XT SCBA system
(1) The XT designation in the MSA Fire M7 XT
SCBA system stands for extreme temperature.
(Photo courtesy of MSA Fire.)

NFPA 1981 also standardized the personal alert safety system (PASS) alarm sound and pattern and moved the low-air alarm activation from 25 percent of air remaining to 33 percent. Other changes include a new communications test protocol changing to a speech transmission index (STI) where the speaking diaphragm has to pass the criterion of 0.45 on the STI and optional voice amplification must pass the criterion of 0.50 on the STI. The standard also has emergency buddy breathing system (EBBS) performance requirements, but these are still being worked out with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The five companies that have recently released new SCBA designs that expect to be compliant with the 2013 versions of NFPA 1981 and 1852 are Scott Safety, Avon Protection, MSA Fire, Draeger, and Honeywell First Responder Products. Currently, all five are awaiting notification of compliancy. All SCBA manufacturers must stop selling SCBA manufactured to the 2007 standards on August 31, 2013. There is no set timeframe for hearing about compliancy.

Reducing Weight

John Dinning, Scott Safety’s North American product line manager, fire service, says Scott’s new SCBA platform is the Air-Pak X3, a sleeker and more durable SCBA than prior models that makes better use of weight management and addresses comfort issues. “We look at this platform in a new way in that it’s sleeker than SCBAs in the past,” Denning points out. “And, it’s available in both the snap change connection and compressed gas connection.”

Honeywell First Responder Products introduced its new BA8013 SCBA platform, which Jeff Shipley, Honeywell’s senior product manager, says improves the system’s ergonomics and functionality and provides a savings in weight. “We shaved the weight of the new system from our Warrior product,” Shipley says, “and enhanced the ergonomics by better distribution of the weight. With the BA8013, the weight sits more on the firefighter’s hips because of a swivel pivot mechanism on the back of the unit that has a knuckle attached to the frame so the firefighter can move more freely without having the frame limit his motions.” Shipley notes the shoulder straps also were modified so they don’t pinch when a firefighter raises his arms, allowing for freer body movement.

PSS 5000, PSS 7000, and Sentinel
(2) Draeger introduced a new series of SCBA, which includes the PSS
5000, PSS 7000, and Sentinel.
(Photo courtesy of Draeger.)

Mark Williamson, global product manager for supplied air products at Avon Protection Systems, says the company’s Deltair SCBA offers optimal weight distribution, clearer communications, and superior air management. Williamson notes the Deltair’s ergonomic design evenly distributes the weight of the cylinder on a firefighter’s hips, similar to how a mountain climber carries a heavy backpack. “By alleviating stress on the back and shoulders, the SCBA minimizes the risk of overexertion and improves a firefighter’s ability to maneuver,” Williamson says. “The cylinder also sits lower so it doesn’t hit the firefighter’s helmet or get in the way when he moves through tight spaces.”

Draeger debuted its new PSS 5000, PSS 7000, and Sentinel fire service SCBAs, all of which are aimed at being lighter and offering different options to suit end users’ needs. Gunnar Brors, business manager for fire service in North, Central, and South America, says Draeger will have six versions of the units, but each will be based on the same carrying system and harness. “What will differ will be the electronic monitoring system that is NFPA-compliant, as well as the design that makes the SCBAs lighter and more comfortable for the firefighter to use,” Brors says.

All of the new Draeger SCBA products are designed so the weight of the SCBA rides on a firefighter’s hips, Nathan Mancine, Draeger’s North American fire service segment manager adds, and not on his shoulders.

The lighter weight found in MSA Fire’s M7XT SCBA is achieved through lighter cylinders, which the company introduced last year, MSA Fire’s Jason Traynor, product group manager, notes. “We partner with Luxfer on the cylinders and introduced super lightweight bottles in 2012 that are available in 30-, 45-, and 60-minute versions that help maintain them as a lightweight platform.”

Scott Safety's Air-Pak X3
(3) Scott Safety’s Air-Pak X3 is a sleeker SCBA that trims weight
and addresses comfort issues.
(Photo courtesy of Scott Safety.)

Traynor says the XT designation for the company’s M7XT Air Mask SCBA system stands for extreme temperature. Traynor notes the new system has seven life safety design components built on a modular platform that exceeds the new NPFA 2013 requirements.

Face Piece Designs

Scott Safety made changes to its face piece design to meet the new NFPA standards, Dinning notes. “We feel very comfortable with our design, which changed a bit for the high-temperature and voice intelligibility tests, although it didn’t affect the form of the face piece.”

“We also changed the lens materials in the mask but not the shape of the mask,” Shipley says, “and our PASS device and heads-up display all use integrated electronics.”

Williamson adds that the Deltair’s low-profile mask design “provides the greatest field of vision in the marketplace, which is critical when a firefighter is navigating a dark, smoky environment.”

Other Features

The Sentinel 7000 high-end SCBA product will have 360-degree sound with speakers in the back of the unit that point up and down and front to back, says Mancine. “The speakers will be the same in the front of the unit, and it also will have 360-degree visual alert consisting of four lights in the back and two in the front for maximum visibility on a fire scene,” Mancine says.

In the mid-range of Draeger’s SCBAs is the Sentinel 1500, which meets NFPA audible alarm and sound requirements but does so through strategic placements instead of 360-degree sound, Mancine points out. “We added a thermal alarm to this product that tabulates the temperature it absorbs in a fire situation,” he says. “It’s user-configurable as to what temperature you want it to alarm at when it has absorbed a certain amount of temperature.”

Traynor says the M7XT can provide firefighters with versatile protection-transforming quickly from a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) SCBA to either an air-purifying respirator (APR) or a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR). The SCBA features a one-way inhalation check valve, wide-view lens with Kevlar SpeeD-ON head harness, a high-performance mechanical diaphragm, a new PASS alarm, and heads-up displayed electronics encased in a sealed high temperature impact-grade polymer case, he points out.

Deltair SCBA
(4) Avon Protection Systems says its Deltair SCBA provides superior
air management and optional weight distribution.
(Photo courtesy of Avon Protection Systems.)

“The Deltair’s patented user-friendly air management switch allows firefighters to instantly shift from ambient air to cylinder air,” Williamson says. “The feature allows firefighters to keep their mask on at all times and only use cylinder air when needed.”

The Deltair system also has a simplified SCBA power system that’s located on the back frame but designed to be removed easily with gloved hands when required, Williamson points out. The unit is powered by six C-cell batteries housed together in one pack, similar to laptop power sources. Williamson notes that Avon has gotten between six and 12 months of battery life, depending on the usage.

Changes Still to Come

Dinning thinks there will be a couple of major changes in SCBA systems in coming years. “I think the two big leaps will be integrated accountability systems and communication devices,” he says. “Those elements could be built into the PASS device so any significant incident is transmitted out through the radio network to command, whether it is a low-pressure alarm, a need to withdraw, or other types of accountability that will help manage a scene better. And, we’ll see a combination of improvements to existing communication products too, as well as a number of new products.”

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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