A firefighter is shown wearing an SBCA and other gear, with a fire truck in the background.

Firefighter SCBA Research

A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) provides breathable air to firefighters and other rescue personnel in hazardous atmospheres and requires that many components work together to keep personnel safe in the line of duty. A major manufacturer of fire safety equipment asked our research team to help them gain insight into firefighter needs to guide the development of a next-generation SCBA.

We visited six professional fire companies of varying sizes across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Florida, two of which were at the time evaluating SCBAs for purchase for their companies. We observed and interviewed company members, all of whom gladly gave us their opinions on current equipment and ideas for a new, more ideal SCBA.

There was a strong consensus that SCBA systems needed improvement in weight and size, which we expected, but also in general complexity. Manufacturers have made many more safety features available, and firefighters used to working with older, bare-bones SCBAs were feeling overwhelmed. The simplification of the system in terms of the user interaction, maintenance, and even appearance were fertile areas for improvement.

Our findings contributed to the development of a next-generation SCBA, which incorporates proven SCBA technology along with new safety features and many features suggested by the firefighters themselves. Our industrial designers worked closely with our client's engineering team to bring the project to fruition.

Innovations to the product include electronic safety features that are housed in a streamlined plastic shell comprised of easy-to-remove and replace modules, for simpler maintenance. Although the new SCBA is not much smaller or lighter than previous generations because of the size of the air cylinder, we were able to improve the comfort of wearing the device by significantly changing its ergonomic design.

For example, the rigid backpack, necessary for securing the air cylinder, is now attached to a swivel and pivot mechanism on the belt. This allows the backpack to move with the user's shoulders, which supports natural back movement and hip flexion. The backpack is also lined with Kevlar padding and features re-curved shoulder straps to improve comfort. When compared to a typical rigid SCBA platform, firefighters experience a more comfortable fit with less pressure on the shoulders and back, as well as exceptional maneuverability.

Training and Facilitation
Interface Design
Industrial Design
Human Factors
Ethnographic Research
Mechanical Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Software Engineering
Full Service Development