A Breath of Fresh Air: The Best Respiratory Protection at the Most Reasonable Cost

The economic recovery process has been slow, and as 2011 quickly approaches government agencies are going to be looking very closely at budgets to see where spending can be cut. With such tight budgets, it will be more important than ever before for federal, state, and local agencies to make the most of their 2011 expenditures.

The inevitable juggling act will begin very early in the new year and each sector will be fighting for its fair share of the pie. One important operational area in the field of homeland security that should not be overlooked is respiratory protection. The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is approaching and, as the war on terror continues, U.S. warfighters and first responders are facing new challenges and threats. Much of the respiratory protection equipment in use today was procured shortly after 9/11, and should be under consideration for renewal, or replacement, early in the coming year.

Respiratory protection is vital in helping ensure that emergency response teams, police officers, fire and rescue personnel, and other first responders are properly protected while responding to incidents. Without the proper respiratory protection, first-responder teams will not be able to do their jobs.

Following are some tips to consider for best leveraging a budget to ensure that a team has the necessary respiratory protection equipment available to stay safe and properly protected while on the job.

Assess the Needs:

The first step in assessing where and how to allocate a budget is to entify the potential “pain points” and areas of need. A careful checking of existing respiratory protection equipment is a good way to start. Many agencies are still using technologies that are more than 10 years old, which means that those units may no longer provide adequate protection against modern chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) and/or other toxic industrial materials.

In addition, many improvements in the comfort and functionality of protection units have been made in the past few years. Law-enforcement officers and other first responders, and emergency management teams, will greatly benefit from innovations that reduce the stress of wearing PPE (personal protection equipment) gear by providing greater flexibility, a wider field of vision, and less breathing resistance.

It is particularly important that the face pieces of protective masks provide a tight seal, and fit comfortably, during an extended period of time. Panoramic visors that are highly flexible as well as both scratch- and impact-resistant provide users with the best possible field of view in a critical situation to ensure they can make proper decisions under stress and react quickly. Additionally, masks with pre-adjusted straps allow for fast donning.

The masks themselves, though, are not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Multiple sizes are manufactured to ensure that the masks will fit a variety of facial shapes and sizes for maximum comfort and protection. After assessing the existing equipment, therefore, and developing a clear understanding of the needs, the next step is to find the best equipment available to meet those needs.

Look for Dual-Purpose Equipment:

As budgets become even more constrained than they now are, first responders should look for dual-purpose equipment that will help leverage their spending. When purchasing equipment, agencies should ensure that the equipment items purchased have dual-use capability across all markets. This is an excellent way to stretch dollars and provide first responders with equipment that offers the range of flexibility needed to meet a broad range of scenarios and requirements.

Tactical mask systems are available for different modes of respiratory protection such as an air-purifying respirator (APR), a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR). Finding a mask that combines these modes of protection would provide protection across several professional disciplines – including but not limited to first responders (hazmat and CBRN), law enforcement, decontamination teams, specialist entry teams, chemical-spill cleanup units, bomb squads, and federal special response teams. Dual-purpose equipment such as the items described above can be used for several purposes and by many professionals, helping all agencies and organizations to get the “biggest bang for the buck.”

Take a Modular Approach:

Purchasing one fully integrated, head-to-toe protective unit helps to reduce the potential of leaks and breaks, which can happen when putting various pieces of protective equipment together. In addition, the modular approach provides procurement officers with the ability to add on to one system year after year, without having to invest in a completely new unit. Currently, there are protective ensembles available that easily integrate with hydration units, communication devices, and eye protection. For complete protection, there are fully integrated protective suits, including respiratory systems such as masks, PAPRs, and SCBA with bomb suits, gloves, and boots.

Another benefit provided by the use of modular equipment is the possibility for improved interoperability between different groups. If multiple agencies need to coordinate efforts to respond to an incident, use of a common modular protection system could allow for the sharing of equipment and resources.

Look for Grant Funding:

It is not mandatory for personal-protection manufacturers to receive National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) approval for respiratory protection equipment. However, there are two benefits to purchasing products with NIOSH and/or NFPA certification. The first is that products certified by these organizations have been thoroughly tested and approved to provide the maximum protection possible from CBRN agents and particulate hazards – including but not necessarily limited to dust, mist, fume, bacteria, and both viral and riot agents.

The second benefit, because it is now more important than ever before to stretch dollars and maximize purchases in order to provide professionals with the best equipment, is that it makes good sense from a budgetary point of view. Departments and facilities can apply for Department of Homeland Security grant funding when they are planning to purchase products that have received full certification and have a NIOSH or NFPA approval tag number.

Respiratory protection may be only a small piece of the overall preparedness puzzle, but it is a vital one that allows first responders, law enforcement officers, government agencies, and other emergency response personnel to perform at the highest levels when it matters most. Budgets will be tight in the coming year, but making the most out of respiratory protection spending is critical for ensuring that the right equipment is included in the equation.


Gary Dunn
Gary Dunn

Gary Dunn is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Avon Protection Systems Inc. (www.avon-protection.com). Avon Protection Systems is a leading designer and manufacturer of personal respiratory protection products, and offers the most comprehensive suite of solutions for a wide range of CBRN applications.



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