Adapting to challenges with MSA Safety

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Dave Howells, Vice President of International Sales and Customer Marketing shares MSA Safety’s vision for firefighting equipment in the Middle East

In an ever-evolving landscape of firefighting technology, understanding the specific needs and challenges of different regions becomes crucial.

The Middle East, with its unique environmental and industrial contexts, requires specialised approaches to firefighting equipment.

In this exclusive interview, we sit down with MSA Safety’s Dave Howells, to delve into how their innovations and products are helping to shape the future of firefighting in this critical region.

From connected technologies to comprehensive gear solutions, we explore MSA Safety’s strategies for addressing the distinct demands of the Middle Eastern market, and their vision for 2024 and beyond.

Please can you introduce yourself, your background and your role at MSA Safety?

I’ve been with MSA Safety for 43 years and am currently the Vice President of International Sales and Customer Marketing.

Through the years, I’ve held a number of roles, having started in sales, worked with our international channels, and then moved into this current role.

I’ve grown with the company as it has grown, especially seeing MSA’s growth in the international market.

What are some of the specific challenges that the Middle East presents?

Broadly speaking, our mission of helping to keep people safe at work presents its own challenge every day.

Whether it’s a firefighter, a construction worker, or someone working on an oil rig, it’s our mission to help keep them safe no matter where in the world they’re located.

But, each industry and each region of the world presents its own challenges and we, as a global safety company, have to develop solutions to address those challenges.

When it comes the Middle East, all the things we do elsewhere, we’re doing it here.

But the challenge, is actually in the region’s growth.

As the region grows, that requires hiring significantly more firefighters and first responders to support the additional infrastructure that’s being built.

So, we have to address that growth by adapting how we present our safety solutions.

We’ve had a specific personal protective equipment selling organisation for decades in the Middle East, but we’ve had to make changes in how we approach the market.

We have three core products in the region, with fire helmets, fire protective clothing and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

Now, we have split associates with those dedicated to selling fire products and those dedicated to selling PPE.

We’ve increased our number of associates in the region to provide better service.

How does MSA’s ‘head-to-toe’ solution in equipment benefit firefighters?

With such an extensive portfolio of safety solutions, MSA is uniquely placed to provide the Middle East with a full suite of protection.

We supply the fire service with the market-leading Gallet helmet, the M1 SCBA and MSA Bristol fire protective clothing.

Add to that our connected suite of products, it puts us in position to deliver unique safety solutions tailored for the user.

We’re willing to engage, meet and discuss our solutions, hear how we can improve our current offerings and adapt and tailor those to meet the demands that we’re hearing about from fire services from across the region.

MSA uses a human-centered design process, starting with the individual and building outwards.

With the broad MSA portfolio of products, we now have the luxury of going to an end user directly to deliver a solution that works for them.

What advancements or developments you’re focusing on for the Middle East market?

There are two areas we’re focusing on.

One is the head-to-toe protection for the firefighter, and the other is how data can play a role in helping to keep firefighters safe.

First, with head-to-toe protection, we’ve seen this with the development of the MSA Bristol X4 fire protective clothing, and how that works together with our Gallet helmets and M1 SCBA.

It’s demonstrating how our solutions provide enhanced comfort, ergonomics and compatibility with MSA’s suite of state-of-the art firefighter equipment.

By building up our network of associates working in the Middle East and dedicating members to specific product groups, we’re able to provide the highest level of customer service to deliver the solutions our customers want.

Second, we are looking at enhancing the health and safety of the firefighter through the use of data.

 One area we’re exploring for the future is physiological monitoring.

That can be especially critical in places like the Middle East, where you have first responders working in incredibly hot environments.

We are at the very early stages with this.

It’s a topic that we’re talking with fire departments and civil defense units to gauge interest.

How does equipment remain reliable and effective in extreme weather and industrial conditions?

Ultimately, no matter where in the world our firefighting products are used, they have to meet a specific standard – whether EN or NFPA – when it comes to being in certain environments.

We recognise the challenges in the Middle East, we know the standards each country uses, and beyond that, it’s working individually to meet customer needs.

That makes Voice of Customer a really important part of our process.

We have a long history and a well-established brand in the Middle East, so it gives us an opportunity to meet with end users and understand their needs.

We’ve done a lot of Voice of Customer with Saudi Aramco Special Fire Brigade, with Saudi Civil Defense, with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and with Dubai Civil Defense.

One specific thing we learned was the difference in how a product is cleaned and maintained and that caused us to consider different make ups and compounds.

So, we know durability is really important, and regionally it’s going to be different.

Whether it’s fire protective clothing or SCBA, some areas wash more, some wash less.

Those are the kind of things that drive variants between the products.

They’re generally customer driven, and we’re happy to help work towards a solution for their unique needs.

How does MSA Safety balance its global product strategy with the specific requirements of the Middle Eastern market?

When we look at the direction of the fire service, we’re seeing more and more interest in connectivity.

This can be connecting together personal protective equipment to monitor use, or connecting data with helping to keep firefighters safe, or in some cases, both.

This is where we see the fire service market moving, and we have to offer solutions for customers to achieve that.

Throughout the world, we offer a robust selection of connected firefighter solutions already.

As the industry moves toward connectivity, it’s important for us to listen to and hear what firefighters and their agencies are saying they want in future products.

It’s important to show how connectivity and the value data can have relative to products and the people who are wearing them.

Essentially, moving from compliance to something that is more feature-rich and technology driven.

This is not necessarily unique to the Middle East, but it is an example of an opportunity where better technology could enhance the experience for the end user.

But when applying that strategy to the Middle East, it will really come down Voice of Customer and learning about their specific needs to help firefighters do their jobs in that region.

We’re looking to offer more connected solutions in the Middle East to complement the head-to-toe products we offer now.

We understand the market, we know it’s growing, and we’ve made changes to our organisation to address them.

We have the resources here and we’re dedicated to meeting the demands of the market.

Can you share any case studies where MSA Safety’s equipment has been particularly effective?

When meeting with firefighting agencies in the Middle East, we’re focused on showing customers how we’ve been effective in developing customer-specific solutions in other parts of the world.

A great example of this is the London Fire Brigade.

They’re converting to the MSA M1 SCBA, and we know the M1 is a major player in the Middle East.

When you look at the product and the connectivity features it has, we need to demonstrate how fire authorities here could have similar success.

The key is working with a customer and really understanding what they’re looking to accomplish.

In the case for London, there were a couple of important components related to data and maintenance.

With data, it was about how to transmit it, capture it, analyse it, and automate the post-incident reporting.

To do this, we had to learn quite a bit about the agency and the intricacies of how their breathing apparatus are used.

London was looking for a product that could automate incident analysis and automate reports on who was wearing what breathing apparatus when and where, and we were able to deliver that solution.

With maintenance, London has a large fleet of breathing apparatus.

They needed a system that could help them more effectively manage their fleet.

This included showing how much an SCBA is being used, what types of environments it’s being used in, and how that information can inform maintenance to rotate the fleet to preserve longevity in their investment.

Again, we worked to deliver a solution to achieve that goal.

When you look at Middle East growth, being able to demonstrate to agencies that we have developed solutions for customers elsewhere and did so by really listening and understanding their pain points, that’s incredibly valuable.

It’s these sorts of relationships and opportunities we’re positioning ourselves for in the region.

Looking towards 2024, what trends do you foresee in firefighting equipment?

We see a lot of possibilities in the connected firefighter space and how to use data to help better understand firefighting trends.

This is going to center around connectivity and the value we’re able to provide to the end user by collecting data and showing how it can be most useful for their specific needs.

With this in mind, it’s moving more from just a compliance mindset of meeting a standard to having a more proactive and robust safety and accountability program.

At this point, we see data as a quickly emerging opportunity.

Data is a way to enhance the products firefighters are using and to collect information about the environment they’re being exposed to.

Ultimately, it’s the data from these products that can help inform MSA on how to build solutions that are best suited for certain environments.

This includes environments in the Middle East.

There are ways we can capitalise on the growth and infrastructure development to enhance how we design products.

The needs from the Middle East market can help inform us on new technologies that we can then apply to other regions of the world.

As an innovative safety solution company, we look to scale our products and see how a solution for one customer can become a solution for many.

And that’s where we find great opportunity in the Middle East.

Finally, what are MSA Safety’s plans for Intersec 2024 event?

We’re really looking forward to showcasing the head-to-toe solutions and having conversations with customers about their needs.

The MSA Bristol X4 fire protective clothing line will be a major part of this event, but we’ll have our full complement of structural, technical rescue and wildland firefighter protective clothing, too.

Also, our connected solutions will be featured, and attendees will have the opportunity to see firsthand how they work and how they can make an impact in helping to keep firefighters safe.

And, we’re looking forward to taking feedback on how data can play a bigger role in the Middle East region.

Intersec Dubai will take place between the 16th and 18th of January at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai. MSA Safety’s Stand Number is Stand 7-D12.

This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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