Washington, DC -- The Department of Homeland Security has awarded the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) a $2 million contract to develop a new pressure vessel that will make the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) worn by first responders substantially thinner and lighter.
Smaller, lighter SCBA will improve fire fighter safety.
"The IAFF is proud of its record as the leader in the development of projects that provide direct benefits to fire fighter health and safety. With all the recent technological developments and new materials we can work with, it's time to fast-track the introduction of new, lighter, less stressful, but highly protective equipment," IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger said.
The cylinders that contain the pressure vessels in existing SCBA account for much of the weight and size of the units. The weight and profile of those cylinders has been associated with increased rates of injury and fatalities for emergency responders.
The IAFF is working with Vulcore Industrial in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to use technology, engineering and new materials to modify the pressure vessel in a way that will reduce the weight and make it smaller and more flexible.
In initial prototype designs, the new pressure vessel offers an approximate 60 percent weight reduction over conventional SCBA cylinders. Prototypes also have a substantially smaller profile, measuring two inches in depth. Pressure vessels on conventional SCBA cylinders measure seven inches in depth.
The design braids new, thin, tubular pressure vessels in the harness assembly, instead of the large cylinders used today sitting on top of the harness assembly, allowing for greater mobility in confined spaces. Unlike conventional cylinders which contain air pressures up to 5000 psi, the new vessels won't fragment if they're ruptured. A punctured pressure vessel would simply vent contained air.
Members of Fort Wayne, IN, Local 124 have tested the prototypes in simulated confined space entry.
The IAFF's contract with DHS spans a 15-month period. The research and development is expected to result in a new, commercially available SCBA.
"The IAFF is confident that a new generation of lighter, low-profile SCBA will be available to the fire service when this important research concludes, and our members will be safer for it," Schaitberger said.
A Technical Advisory Committee of IAFF members will provide input for the integration, testing and introduction of the new pressure vessel technology. At the first meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee, several factors were identified that will help ensure a smooth transition of a new SCBA to the fire service.