Stick with the Old, Toss the New

This week a new design in SCBA was field tested by firefighters here in the metro-Washington, D.C. area. Its unveiling marks a significant change that can affect firefighter operations and stress. Unfortunately, some people seem to be stuck in “tradition” and much like mammoths caught in the La Brea tar pits, their narrow-mindedness keeps them from seeing the potential that this new tool has.

A firefighter from Engine Co.25 in Washington, D.C. completes a ladder evolution while wearing MSA's new SCBA. (Mark Brady photo)

A firefighter from Engine Co.25 in Washington, D.C. completes a ladder evolution while wearing MSA's new SCBA. (Mark Brady photo)

The Prince George’s County fire department training grounds were the scene for the new ‘flat pack’ style SCBA field testing. Firefighters from neighboring departments went through a number of evolutions while wearing their current style of SCBA. They then repeated the same evolutions with the new prototype. These test weren’t a staged introduction for immediate SCBA use, but were designed to give additional information to the designers for redevelopment.

The development is funded by a DHS grant awarded to the IAFF. The IAFF selected MSA to build a new SCBA to replace the current single-cylinder system we use now. Lighter, with a very slim profile, the new SCBA design will still have to have additional redesign and testing before being made rig-ready. Unfortunately, some firefighters have already rejected the new SCBA.

Take a look at how it played out on some various fire service websites and pages,

“very nice but can we get it in a scott at some point in time? if not then i will keep to what i trust!”

“ill stick with my compost bottle.. at least i know it work and dose what i need it to do..”

“I’ll stick w/my Scott bottle.”

“so where am I going to pack that into the truck? they look like they are going to take up space!”

“but, now we have to change the seats in the trucks to accommodate to the new packs, and the fill stations are gonna change.”

“i don’t like the looks of it”

“Every thing we use on our rigs will have to be changed!! I’ll stick with my ISI”

“They’ll have to redeisgn the rigs to accomodate the new style now.It’s a conspiracy to keep the design staff employed.”

“If it requires a major refit, it ain’t gonna happen…”

“Maybe the edges will be beveled so things that might otherwise catch on them will ride up and over so the FF won’t be entangled as much. But how would we fit square “bottles” into the round holes of the current design of spare SCBA storage spaces on the rigs?”

And my personal favorite,
“My only question so far is the possible plastic chemical tranfer to the air and its affect on the body. Estrogen similarity of plastic chemical(?) and how it would affect males? Plastic under pressure transfer to air and cancer? Any studies out there on these issues?”

Right. SCBA cancer-related death. I guess that gets you a official LODD ruling as well.

Current and future SCBA go through a wall breach evolution (Mark Brady photo)

Current and future SCBA go through a wall breach evolution (Mark Brady photo)

It’s only a small sampling, but it is concerning. Not so much concerning that a small number of comments don’t reflect the greater number of firefighters; but concerning that in this day and age there are men and women going to fires with such a narrow mind. The majority of our current tools and technology used on the fireground today came about by many years of invention, research, test and retest. We enjoy their benefits because key people had the vision to see past naysayers and skeptics. When I started some 20 years ago, a leather strap was my safety when riding on the backstep. A few years later we had man-saver bars. The Scott SCBA that some of the folks above endear, were steel bottles and had a huge regulator attached to the chest strap. MSA’s had a facepiece with only slightly more visibility than a child’s Halloween mask. Even with the ‘new’ tools we have during my last years, there was still room for improvement. I don’t recall anyone griping that we would have to get rid of Halligan bars when the Rabbit Tool was developed.

If you have someone in your house who has a narrow mind when it comes to making your job better, work with them to try and see the reality of the matter before them. This new SCBA isn’t on the market yet; it’s still being developed, tested, redesigned. It doesn’t mean that you’ll have to buy all new apparatus or face some government enforcement making you purchase it. It’s a tool, a new one that as far as we know right this minute – is not on the job.

I wonder how many high-rises these commentators have in their first due area…

References
Flat Pack SCBA Field Testing, Mark Brady, Chief PIO, PGFEMS

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11 thoughts on “Stick with the Old, Toss the New”

  1. Here is my take on this….Test it on the West Coast, where the Fire Service has embraced change! If it is lighter and reduces my profile, i’ll take it. Its gonna be at least 3 yrs or more before it hits the streets, so more changes are coming.
    There are alot of questions to be answered, how to mount , refill, hydrostatic test all those cylinders? These things will get worked out. What do you guys want, the old Steel cylinders back???

  2. Bill
    Anyone who does the calls will enjoy any SCBA that is lighter. The stress and impact of wearing an SCBA on hundreds of calls a year has always been known by those who do it. Maybe we will finally get a break with this new design. Bring it on!
    Ray McCormack
    Publisher/Editor
    Urban Firefighter Magaazine

  3. Thank you for the comments.

    Let us also remind others that while they might ‘fear’ change, the SCBA that has currently been used for many years now is sometimes disregarded during its most crucial time, as noted below:

    “The victims were found equipped with a flashlight and various fire fighter hand tools in their pockets. Victim #1 was found without his helmet on and Victim #2 still had his on. The victims were also found with their Nomex® hoods rolled down on their necks, without their facepieces on, and without a stand-alone or integrated PASS device.”
    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200907.html

    The investigation concluded that it was highly probable that neither victim had donned his facepiece or was on air when making entry.

  4. Resistance to fast change and reluctance to be an early adopter are perfectly valid survival traits.

    Many of the questions asked here are legitimate ones. Apparatus replacement tends toward a 20 year cycle. Investments in fill stations, spare bottles and so on is done for the long term. For any kind of realistic adoption, it’s going to have to prove to be a significant enhancement to get attention in the short term.

    Calling experienced brothers Luddites simply because they question the value of some new bit of kit does these men a real disservice.

  5. Thank you Andrew.

    Actually, I believe it is just the opposite in disservice to allow narrow-mindeness to go unchallenged. They should be encouraged to openly offer as many of whatever type of question to the designers as possible. Unfortunately, as some of these have shown, they have refused the idea right out of the gate. Each fire service website that ran the IAFF story and featured it did so without any endorsing commentary from either the IAFF, MSA or a editorial board of its own. The legitimacy of immediate refusal of a improved tool or new idea is childish. Even elementary school children are aware that the scientific process involves additional testing of a hypothesis. What credibility would you give to the person of assumed adult age, and common sense, who asks how to fit a square SCBA into a round hole? When my department switched to hour bottles, we weren’t stupefied by the existing SCBA brackets in our apparatus. It is easily recognizable, or should be, that this is the first field test of the new SCBA and there has been no estimate of a time when the SCBA will be on the market. A rational thinker would argue the Luddite that he is shutting the door on, at the least, the possibility of and involvement with a device that might make his or her job easier. He would also argue the Luddite that the device isn’t a robot designed to replace him or her.

    If we collectively encourage firefighters to challenge new ideas and tools to help with the design and test process, then the chances for success in the field are greater.

  6. I think that what is lost on these brothers is the purpose of these trials. Anyone who thinks, thought, that these would be available next week is obviously under the wrong impression. Many of these comments seem as though that is the impression these folks had.

    Obviously there needs to be significant thought into mounting and refilling and a hundred of other concerns, but if they were available today, tell me one department that could start purchasing them now? A budget process is required, user testing and trials, and then a plan for implementation.

    So put the cart back where it belongs and then let’s see where we end up.

  7. Change can be good or it can be bad but this is obviously the direction SCBA’s are going in with lighter, smaller profile units, who would have thought 10 years ago you would be required to have a mount to hold your helmet inside the truck? truck design will change to fit the new style scba’s no matter what they look like. My only question is why only MSA to design a Demo? Competition never hurt anything and if this test is held in a pro scott area then it is no wonder they got the comments they received. Way to early to pass judgement on the overall design.

  8. That is disappointing, just like the “objections” to the European helmets that are proven to be superior (some do not meet our impact standards, but MSA has already stated they will construct helmets so they will comply). Sadly, the old saying is true, “The fire service: 150 years of tradition, unimpeded by innovation.”

    I just hope that when new stuff clearly outperforms our current stuff in terms of the safety of our brothers, we learn to embrace changes.

  9. Thanks Jeff,

    I hope that too. I also hope that when and if new stuff fails, we don’t overwhelm designers with ‘we told you so.’

    As far as the helmet discussion, that’s probably the most traditional tool to try and alter. I suppose we’d have as much luck as trying to get rid of the designated hitter in the AL.

    But the discussion itself is going well and considering forums, that’s especially good.

    Bill

  10. Kicking and screaming, we will drag the morons into the 21st Century. Let’s continue to have an objective look at things before saying they won’t work.

    Motorized apparatus was a reach when they first were introduced. And we all know that this computer thing is just a fad.

    Tell them to send a few down here. We’ll try anything out.

  11. We only use the scba’s two to three times a year. but I am sure that if we had a couple of these they would be the first ones off the truck!!!! I cant wait and when they come on the market I am getting one. (even if I have to duke it out with the chief.)
    Vesta Fire MN

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