Despite Setbacks, Slimmer SCBA Moves Forward

Two Indiana-based firms are at the forefront of new technology that could drastically change breathing apparatus in the near future.

In 2009, Fort Wayne-based Vulcore Industrial LLC approached Indianapolis-based Safe Responder LCC about doing research on a new SCBA air pack based around a pressure vessel system.

Dr. Jim Brown, president of Safe Responder and Director of Firefighter Health and Safety Research at Indiana University-Bloomington, spoke to a class at FDIC on Friday about the progress of the product.

The concept has been in development by Vulcore since 2001. In 2007 they approached DHS and partnered with the IAFF in 2008.

While the technology has been approved, there are still multiple steps that need to be taken before it can go into production. The DOT, NIOSH and NFPA all have to approve the completed version.

The design for the new SCBA has been referred to as the "FlatPak," but Brown said a cease and desist letter from SCOTT was received a few days ago that claimed they had the rights to the name.

That, along with other challenges, has delayed the project, but progress is still being made.

Now being referred to as the "Slim System," it is a low profile, lightweight SCBA built around new pressure vessel technology.

The pressure vessel consists of a polymetric plastic core braided with ballistic Kevlar and wound with carbon filament.

Brown said that the same technology is used by NASA in astronauts' suits.

The Indianapolis Fire Department was supposed to begin testing the SCBA early this year, but due to delays and the need for final approval by the NFPA, it most likely will not begin the three-month pilot program until next year, Brown said.

Safe Responder previously worked with IFD Station 10 and gathered physiological data with standard SCBAs.

While a standard-design SCOTT SCBA used for the testing weighed 32 pounds, the Slim System prototype created for the study weighed only 16 pounds.

So far, MSA, Honeywell, Drager and several other manufacturers have developed prototypes -- some of which were on display at FDIC.

Brown said that those models weighed around 20 pounds and that the weight of the final product will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

"We know they can go lighter," he said. "It's not going to be 30 pounds though. It will still be lighter than the standard bottle."

The Slim System SCBA will hold the same 4500 PSI as the standard model, but Brown says that the amount of time the air lasts may be longer because of the decreased weight of the new model.

While there are no estimates as to what the cost of the new SCBA will be when it hits the market, Brown said it shouldn't be much more than standard units.

"It's not going to be two- or three-times the cost," he said. "It's going to be in the same ballpark."

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