Developments in RPE


The pandemic has triggered changes in how firefighters clean and maintain Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), with disinfection and hygiene taking on increasing importance.

Looking forward, we must ensure that none of the lessons learned are forgotten and that we further protect the health of our firefighters. As a company, we are committed to this issue, and launched our «Health for the Firefighter» campaign last year to drive the cultural changes needed to protect firefighter health.

Functional developments

Dräger RPE has seen significant improvements in recent years with a clear focus on ergonomics and related physical injuries. For example, a continual reduction in weight reduces physical stress and therefore limits the risk of injury. On a more functional level, air circulation space between the firefighter’s back and the SCBA backplate has increased, helping to improve ventilation and reduce heat build-up at a critical central area of the torso.

Any reduction in weight is an obvious improvement, but the distribution of weight is equally if not more important, and this is dictated by the apparatus’ alignment with the human body.

With new generation BA equipment, the weight is carried by the legs and pelvis rather than the back. This not only improves personal comfort, but also enhances mobility within confined spaces and while descending ladders and stairwells, thus reducing physical exertion requirements, time spent in emergency settings and risk of injury. In an industry where a split second can be the difference between life and death, these advancements are crucial.

Alterations have also been made to maximize cleaning practices, including the introduction of smoother nonabsorbent surfaces to make equipment easier to wipe down and decontaminate. On a broader level, certain fire services are moving towards mechanical washing systems, which provide complete consistency in washing temperatures, concentration of detergent, speed and temperature of drying.

Dräger has launched into the Emergency Services space specialist BA and mask cleaning equipment and dedicated solutions and will continue to pioneer advancements in the field. With so few companies doing so, we pride ourselves on our fully holistic service offering.

This means working closely with fire services to meet their manufacture, service and training needs, as well as providing bespoke workshop design solutions, and ongoing logistical and technical support.

Utilising technology

Technology forms such a major part of the world today, and its significance for RPE is no different.

Dräger offers the only operationally proven telemetry solution, allowing vital information to be communicated between the wearer of the BA set and the Entry Control Point. These signals include manual and automatic distress signals, team withdrawal signals, cylinder pressure, time to whistle and time of whistle, and are just some of the data transmitted between the breathing apparatus set and the Entry Control Board.

This system also provides comprehensive data regarding the firefighters’ condition in relation to their Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), proving invaluable to those responsible for monitoring and directing BA crews such as the Entry Control Officer or relevant commanders.

Connectivity is becoming increasingly important in fire services and this will only grow over the coming years. Physiological monitoring of heart rate, body core temperature and related stress levels significantly improve the understanding of individuals’ condition during incident response and can also uncover long-term conditions at an early stage.

Likewise, localization devices will play a bigger role going forward. Despite the operation of a distress signal unit (manual or automatic), locating the distressed person can prove difficult, leading to several firefighter deaths over the years. As location data becomes more readily available and affordable, coupled with the potential to connect this to BA and telemetry, this will significantly improve the safety of our firefighters, whilst at the same time offering an additional tool to support operational tactics at an incident.

British built

For equipment manufacturers, the location of manufacturing facilities is crucial. The pandemic has highlighted the fragile supply chains upon which so many companies depend, and it has exposed the risks of globalization.

Despite being a global company, Dräger’s SCBA research and design center of excellence design is located in the north east of England, along with its training facilities, and these services are backed by a team of more than 70 nationwide service engineers. The world of RPE is changing rapidly, from kit design to connectivity and technological integration. Dräger has a proud history of innovation in RPE, and we are paving the way for a future of increased safety for firefighters.

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