Exclusive: Feature rich, technology driven with MSA Safety

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Jason Traynor, General Manager at MSA Safety, talks about the Middle East region and what to look out for at IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety Conference

What is MSA’s current position in the Middle East?

Over the past few years we’ve made some organisational changes to be able to more effectively support the fire and rescue services in the Middle East. The means having dedicated resources to help support the end users there.

We made a decision about a year and a half ago to hire people that are focussed specifically on fire – on breathing apparatus, on fire protective clothing, on fire helmets – and make sure that when they have a question about a product and need attention from MSA they have a dedicated resource to help support them. We wanted customers to feel peace of mind knowing they have a large multinational brand that is ready to support them.

What is the current state of the market for Firefighting Equipment in the Middle East?

It is a well-established market. It is sophisticated and users in the region value the products in a way that helps to make it an approachable market for someone like us. It’s not just a case of ‘we want the least expensive thing that meets the standard’ – there are real opportunities for growth in the region.

We had a multi-day meeting recently to talk about connectivity and the value to the end user of data that collecting knowledge about the product and people that are wearing it gives. That’s an area where we feel the market can go, moving from compliance and ‘meeting the standard’ 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.

Do you have any key considerations when catering to Middle East end users?

When I think about heat stress and physiological monitoring and core body temperature specifically, the Middle East is top of mind because of the extreme weather. We needed to develop products in a way that protects the firefighter but doesn’t overheat them in extreme temperatures. Our product development is focused on the aspect of physiological strain on firefighters knowing that they’re wearing a lot of heavy equipment in a very hot environment.

It’s difficult for us talk completely generally as there is so much variability in the region as we work in several countries in the region all with different approaches. In the core countries (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait) we have a uniform approach. Our go-to-market approach in the sales cycle has to be a little bit different because of the nature of the fire service in these countries, so we respect the tradition, and we try to most effectively serve the market with this in mind.

Do you foresee any significant developments in the region in the months ahead?

We try to avoid are region-specific product developments because when we think about an EN standard it covers a large area of the world. We want to bring scale to our investments, so we are conscious of the differences in regions and we work to build those into our product development process.

When we think about the M1 as a breathing apparatus, M stands for modularity. That modularity allows individual customers with unique needs to build or configure their product in the way that best suits them. We try to think about regional differences and flexibility with product design, to allow the end-user to more efficiently and effectively design a product that is going to fulfil their needs rather than saying ‘here’s our Asia Pacific SCBA, here’s our Middle East SCBA etc.’ because that just dilutes the product development efforts and makes less bang for the buck.

When we think about investing in new technologies we take into account through voice of customer and work with the different regions, but we don’t have a regional specific product effort, it’s always NFPA or EN.

That is kind of a long way of saying ‘no’ – it’s an interesting question, it’s just that, from a global product, standpoint we try to build solutions that are application specific more than region specific. It means that we understand firefighting and the demands that that brings and try to solve unmet needs that are globally relevant for the application of firefighting more than a unique regional need.

That said, if there is a contract or opportunity that requires unique product development we are flexible with regards to being able to tailor a large customers needs. One example happened in Kazakhstan several years ago: we had a large oil and gas customer there that would function at negative 40 degrees centigrade and so we went through a product development effort to be able to support an extreme cold solution.

Has there been anything that you have learned from have a presence in the region and speaking to your customers that you’ve been able to apply to your products?

Voice of customer is 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 that with Saudi Aramco Special Fire Brigade, with Civil Defense Saudi Arabia, with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and with Dubai Civil Defense. One specific thing we learned were the differences in cleaning a how a product is cleaned and maintained and that casued us to consider different make ups and compounds.

As an example, this would be looking at face piece where the cleaning agent might react well with one product and less well with another. Talking with customers in the region and understanding their needs has led to solutions that we would not have thought if we only considered how products were looked after in the US and the UK.

What do you expect to see in the region in the years ahead?

We see it as an emerging region in terms of opportunities for growth for MSA. It’s a region that we’re happy to be investing in and be present in, and we look forward to having those dedicated resources to drive MSA’s value proposition. It’s a region for MSA that is important for investment, for growth, and for opportunities to enhance the end users experience through technology. 

What does it mean to you to be attending IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety?

Our connection with the IFSJ team has been really positive so we’ve got a lot of confidence in your team to put on a great event. In terms of Leaders in Fire, we consider ourselves a global leader in the fire service. What that means in terms of product and production is that we’re the leading manufacturer of breathing apparatus in the world, we’re the leading manufacturer of fire helmets in the world, and the leading manufacturer of fire protective clothing in the world.

When we talk about leaders in fire in the region, we ought to have a seat at the table. Listening to the needs and applying our ability to make change and drive innovation to supports that, so when we heard about this event the thought process was that we should certainly have a presence and should be not only talking but listening at the day’s event.

What will MSA be focusing on for its presentation at the conference?

There’s two things, somewhat in parallel. One is the opportunity that being a head-to-toe manufacturer brings us. If you think about fire protective clothing and its interaction with the breathing apparatus, with the collar on your jacket, and with the face piece and hood and helmet, MSA is in a position to control that whole system. We have designed a system that was thoughtfully built to work together to reduce the physiological strain and make it more streamlined, with a human centred design for a person doing a very unique job.

We’re in a position to design those products as a whole system rather than a series of products that need a standard or are later put together – if a manufacturer can control all those pieces, they can make a better and more controlled ecosystem of products.

The parallel to that is the importance of data and productivity. In the history of firefighting we have a lot of information that was lost such as what firefighting equipment was exposed to, what the individual was exposed to, and how it performed over time – maybe it’s in a log book somewhere in a filing cabinet in a fire house, but it’s not something that you can effectively tap into.

When we think about data, that’s an emerging space within the fire and rescue service and one in the next ten years that I think it really going to become a fundamental part of how they do their jobs, how they manage their fleet of products, and how they manage their people. I think that’s an exciting emergence that we can speak to. Those are clear strategic priorities for MSA.

Why should people attend the IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety conference?

It is an opportunity to learn and engage with global manufacturers who wake up every day thinking about firefighters and firefighting safety. It is a unique opportunity for people in region in the industry to have something at home rather than being asked to fly to a massive trade show where you have a less controlled, more arbitrary experience. Leaders in Fire has a very clear agenda and opportunity to learn and engage and do it in a way that is specifically tailored towards the fire rescue service in the Middle East.

This article was originally published in the March edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

About IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety the event

Hosted by Centurian Media Ltd, IFSJ’s Leaders in Fire & Safety Conference will bring together leading figures from the Middle East fire and safety industries to deliver a high-class business forum that focuses on business strategy, latest trends, regulations and innovations from the region.

Taking place at The Grosvenor Hotel, Dubai Marina on Thursday 11 May 2023, this one-day in-person conference will focus on the most important topics and verticals from the fire and safety sector, with expert commentary and views provided by our advisory panel, conference speakers, industry expert panellists and a host of high profile influencers.

For more information about the event and to register your interest, please visit the official IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety Conference website.

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