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  1. #1
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    Default NFPA changes to SCBA standards

    I recently received a copy of a memorandum from MSA regarding changes to NFPA 1981 "Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus for the Fire Service". These changes are planned for promulgation in August, 2002. The change that will have the greatest impact on the fire service is the requirement for a heads up display (HUD) installed in the SCBA mask which will provide cylinder pressure information to the firefighter. My comments here do not reflect a problem directly with MSA, but with the process and the impact on the end user.

    Many of us fire service veterans will remember the old days when we had 30 minute steel cylinders and a bell type audible alarm as our only warning of low air pressure. The air packs were heavy, but they were ultra-reliable, almost fireman proof. Since that time technology has improved the cylinders, now we are using carbon fiber wrapped cylinders with 45-60 minute air supplies and they are very light. Unfortunately, we have to keep bolting additional equipment, redundant low pressure alarms, redundant P.A.S.S. alarms, etc., onto these packs. The weight savings we gained with technology have been offset by the new devices that are being added. All this technology would be great if it saves firefighter lives and especially if the damn things worked!!!

    This brings me, at long last, to the point I want to make. Each time the NFPA standard changes, the manufacturers upgrade their new equipment to meet the current standard. Most responsible fire department also try to keep their equipment up to the new standards by adding the necessary equipment to comply. The big question is, why are we not holding the manufacturers responsible for making sure the equipment is durable and reliable

    In my department, a large suburban department serving a population of 75,000 from 3 fire stations, running almost 15,000 calls annually, we spend a great deal of time repairing and maintaining the add-on accessories to our SCBA (we have about 100 SCBA in service). The redundant alarms currently have a failure rate of about 5 per week. Confidence among the firefighters is low and our customer service from the manufacturer is lower. When redundant alarms were first required by NFPA, we rushed out and purchased enough units to equip every SCBA we had. At the tune of $550.00 each, this was an investment of $55,000.00. This first generation device has proven to be unreliable, and we are now in the process of changing them gradually to the second generation version which, so far seems more dependable. The down side is, we get no trade in value for the old, and the new investment at $800.00 each will be an additional $80,000.00. This is a lot of money no matter what kind of budget you have.

    Now I am notified of a change to NFPA that, according to MSA, will be effective August, 2002. According to MSA, they have a HUD device currently under field test that will be launched in, would you believe it, August, 2002. I am curious if other MSA users have experienced similar problems to the ones I have outlined and I would also like to hear from owners of Scott and other SCBA brands. As a concientious fire department, we want to be sure that we maintain our equipment at the highest level, providing the greatest margin of safety for our firefighters. I do not like the idea of being regulated into purchasing products that may or may not work, and if they don't, buying the new and improved version a year later with no financial assistance from the manufacturer.

    Years ago, when the Federal Government, through the EPA, required auto makers to install emission control devices on new motor vehicles, they protected the consumer by requiring the auto makers to provide an 8 year/80,000 mile warranty on catalytic converters, electronic ecu's, and the onboard emissions diagnostic device. This prevented the automaker from installing poor quality products and forcing the consumer to comply with emissions requirements by purchasing new devices a couple of years down the road. I think it is time to make fire service product manufacturers to step up to the plate in a similar fashion.

    NFPA committees are comprised of manufacturers, end users, and other "experts" in the field. If a manufacturer can convince end users that a product is safer, they can often get a new product pushed through to be adopted by NFPA. Then, responsible fire departments trying to keep up with the new standards purchase these items to comply with the standard. If the product fails, the user is left holding the bag.

    Let's all stand together and ask the NFPA and the manufacturers to provide some type of warranty that the product we are mandated to purchase will work and not bankrupt us.

    Questions and comments from all are welcome.


  2. #2
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    Many of us fire service veterans will remember the old days when we had 30 minute steel cylinders and a bell type audible alarm as our only warning of low air pressure.
    Old days? Heck, you're describing our front line equipment.

    Agree with your point 100%.

  3. #3
    Forum Member Rescue101's Avatar
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    I take it we're talking about MSA masks as all the Upgrades Scott has done in the last 12 or so years add oz.to an already ulta reliable system.Been using Scott since the original Air Pack,now into the Scott Fifty Composites with NO FAILURES and NO Problems.Standard benching applys.We did have a small problem with a 2A mask freezing up a -45F one night,but we have had 0 problems with the new issues 2.2 and up.Our current pack count is right around 40 and the only thing we're planning on changing is all the bottles to composite.T.C.

    [ 11-08-2001: Message edited by: Rescue 101 ]

  4. #4
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    Rescue 101, are you talking about no failures in the pack itself? The MSA pack and regulator are good, always have been. I am talking about these electronic alarms for low air pressure and PASS devices, somehow I don't think fragile electronic devices and air packs really belong together. That is my point, NFPA mandates adding something that is doomed to failure, and like lambs to the slaughter we dutifully follow along, lining the pockets of the manufacturers.

  5. #5
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    Maybe you will think diferently when it saves your life one day. I understand were NFPA is coming from they are trying to protect us. If they didn't care then we would be back to people with iron lungs running into fires. and I also have never had a problem with scott or the pass alarm.

  6. #6
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    Pak-Man, I did not say that I was against safety enhancements, quite the contrary. I said I have an issue with being mandated to add safety enhancements that don't work and that manufacturers need to take more responsibility for field testing and production of durable, working products.

  7. #7
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    Reading your post brother, i heard you do your own repairs to your equip. that is much like my dept also. now i worry with these new LCD SCBA mask systems that when they do break down or need a little tune up, they will need to be sent out somewhere sounds like. I really like how we are getting new technology in the job ie. carbon SCBA, LCD indicators on the pump systems and thermal cameras. Now those are all things that can be sent out because we either have enough of them or the chances we use them are close to none, and can send them out and get them back in time. Now i worry when you put the computerized mask on and turn it on, either your little LCD wont work and you will have a tank malfuntion or it just wont work. Sending things like that are important to our and your job. These masks are a liability now and will be a constant worry for all of us Fire Fighters out there.

  8. #8
    Forum Member PAVolunteer's Avatar
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    What are all these safety enhancements that don't work? We have the MSA MMR's w/ the integrated PASS device and have had no problems at all what so ever. The safety enhancements are great. Now, turning on the PASS is one less thing that I have to remember.

    Using these enhancements are just like any tool. You have to know how/what to do if the tool breaks or otherwise malfunctions. If you become solely dependent upon it, that's when we have problems.

    Stay Safe

    [ 11-09-2001: Message edited by: PA Volunteer ]

  9. #9
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    I am certified to repair scott air paks and their really isn't that much that breaks on a pass alarm. The only thing that I remember that the whole pass needed to be replaced is when somebody dropped a pak right on the pass and smashed the gauge and board inside. but the lcd on a scott is just like the vibralert and just goes on when the air is low. just wait till the all digital paks come out. I wonder how they will do?

  10. #10
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    Hey guys,

    Just keep in mind that all the NFPA standards and ammendments thereto are consensus-based documents, and before changes are made official and take effect, there is an open review period when anyone from the chief right on down to "Joe-on-the-street" can obtain copies of the proposals and submit comments and contributions for consideration in the standard writing process. We should probably all keep an eye on when standards are being reviewed and try to give our constructive feedback, as we are the end-users.

    That said, I'm all for any safety enhancement that comes along... especially something that works all by itself even when I forget or get complacent (as we all do from time to time). I think the technology has evolved enough to provide rugged and reliable electronics, as long as they are utilized and maintained appriately. Finally, I'd like to think that my safety is worth at least a few bucks to the city; it's proven to be cheaper than paying worker's comp. claims.

  11. #11
    Forum Member Rescue101's Avatar
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    Dave,We're not currently using the intergrated pass on our Scotts,but I have a lot of neighboring towns that do.To my knowledge there have been 0 failures of any of the Scott equipment.I Know for absolute fact we have had 0 failures of any kind(outside of a broken/cracked mask or two)on any of our 2.2s this includes the older wire type backframe.Again I like Scotts,but ANY mask beats breathing smoke.T.C.

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