SCBA That Works for Firefighters


Millions of Americans are exposed to some kind of danger or injury in the workplace. Firefighters, however, are at the most dangerous end of the risk spectrum. Placing firefighter safety at the center of its design and development, Sperian has produced its ergonomically designed WarriorTM SCBA, which is compliant with the 2008 editions of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, and NFPA 1982, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS).

Prior to designing the WarriorTM, Sperian consulted firefighters across North America to determine the features they would like to see incorporated in their SCBA. The firefighters responded that an SCBA should

  • balance its weight evenly to reduce fatigue and injury;
  • be free of snag points and protrusions;
  • emphasize comfort and functionality;
  • integrate all the functional components—first stage, power supply, PASS alarms, battery status indicator, and low-air alarms; and
  • allow for quick and easy cylinder changing.

Overall, firefighters wanted an easy-to-use, reliable SCBA that would allow them to function with less fatigue. They wanted superior mobility, instruments and controls integrated into the backpack, and a safer SCBA.


How do you distribute the weight of an SCBA on a firefighter’s body? Through ergonomics. Sperian engineers found that if the SCBA is placed at the user’s center of gravity, the weight is shifted from the shoulders to the stronger lower-back area. To shift the weight, Sperian engineers developed the MaxxMotionTM swivel and pivot mechanism. This swiveling hinge allows the Warrior’s AirPodTM backpack to pivot, distributing weight to the hips and reducing pressure on the shoulders and lower back.

Photo courtesy of Sperian Respiratory Protection USA.
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Metaphase Design Group, Inc., a firm that specializes in ergonomics and industrial design, was commissioned to conduct an ergonomic audit and usability analysis on the Warrior, with the following results:

  • A lower tank position doubles a firefighter’s neck and head mobility.
  • Warrior MaxxMotion Swivel and Pivot mechanism provides 35 percent greater mobility.
  • Warrior provides 20 to 30 percent greater trunk mobility.
  • Hip flexion is improved over a rigid SCBA frame by about 20 percent.
  • Trunk side bending mobility is doubled during the commando crawl (the belly crawl).
  • Scapular and sacral pressure is negligible—equal to or less than five pounds, compared with 15 pounds of pressure in the scapular region and 22 pounds at the sacral region

for some traditional SCBAs.

In field trials, firefighters found that the built-in Warrior ergonomics allowed them to move with greater ease when climbing a ladder, climbing through an elevated window, and commando crawling through a maze.


To meet widespread concerns about the numerous snag points on an SCBA, all of the functional components of the Warrior were integrated—first-stage pressure reducer, power supply, PASS alarms, RIC/UAC, battery status indicator, and low-air alarms. This created a sleeker design, and field tests showed that when a firefighter crawled through a debris field, the debris rolled off the user’s helmet over the cylinder and off the Warrior without entangling the firefighter. Integrating the functional components was a key driver in making a safer SCBA.


Throughout the design process, Sperian engineers focused on making a safer SCBA. Safety features include unrestricted access to drag rescue devices (DRDs) on all turnout gear, not just on Sperian turnout gear; moving the low-air alarm near the user’s left ear for easier detection; front and back audible and visual PASS alarms; front and rear visual alarms located at eye level for easy detection by a fellow firefighter; and an aircraft-grade aluminum frame with three large carrying handles and carabiner holes that withstand more than 1,000 pounds of pull force for use in emergency extrication.

JEFF SHIPLEY is the Warrior product manager for Sperian Respiratory Protection USA.

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