IFSJ Exclusive: Putting firefighters on the map with MSA Safety

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Matt Quigley, Product Platform Manager for MSA Connected Firefighter, and Selma Sosic, Product Line Manager for MSA FireGrid talk product development and FDIC

At FDIC in 2019, MSA Safety announced the Connected Firefighter Platform. Since then, the platform has grown and developed to incorporate new elements such as LUNAR and FireGrid. Ahead of FDIC 2023, which returns to Indiana Convention Centre on 24-29 April, IFSJ caught up with Matt Quigley, Product Platform Manager for MSA Connected Firefighter, and Selma Sosic, Product Line Manager for MSA FireGrid to learn more about the Platform, its development, latest additions and what’s coming next.

Can you give me an overview of the Connected Firefighter?

MQ: Our aim for the Connected Firefighter Platform is to utilise connectivity and technology to make firefighters and fire departments more capable. From what we see from the Global Fire Service market, firefighters are typically being asked to do more. What we see, especially in North America, is that the number of firefighters isn’t really growing. The fire service is essentially being called upon to do more with the same or less resources. Our intent for the Connected Firefighter is to utilise technology to essentially make fire departments more capable in three primary areas.

The first one is people: making firefighters safer with new technological tools. The second is products – we’re developing a lot of functionality that leverages technology and data to inform maintenance procedures to make the product last longer and be less burdensome to maintain. The final one is processes – we’re collecting information on firefighter behaviour to inform departments of additional training opportunities and to make them safer by bringing awareness to their behaviours.

A big part of the Connected Firefighter is our FireGrid cloud software. All of our connected products have wireless transmission capabilities to FireGrid, which is our centralized location for storing and providing insights from customer data. FireGrid is essentially the central focal point that’s gluing our entire platform together.

What are the major components that you’re offering for FireGrid?

SS: There are four key functionalities that FireGrid offers. The first one is the live incident management, meaning being able to monitor live MSA product data on scene to help the incident commander make more informed decisions in real time.

The second is our post-incident analytics. Firefighters don’t have to change anything about the way that they’re using the breathing apparatus, but because our devices are cloud-connected, all that data is stored in their account in the cloud, and we’re able to utilize that data to provide more insightful analytics and reporting for the customer to better inform things like training or on-scene procedures.

Third is Inventory Management and Compliance. We currently offer an inventory management solution where you’re able to track all of your MSA products and manage all of the relevant maintenance and compliance requirements for each asset. Because this tool is part of the cloud-based ecosystem, MSA is specifically able to link the G1 SCBA’s hours under pressure to the inventory management tool, allowing customers to save time and resources by maintaining SCBAs based on actual usage data.

The fourth component that FireGrid offers is the individual firefighter health and safety component which primarily takes the focus from looking at individual products to looking at individuals and behaviours.

MQ: With our head-to-toe portfolio, MSA is able to provide multiple types of equipment than an individual firefighter will use while on-scene. With the Connected Firefighter, we want to provide a singular repository of collected data from all of these products. That information can be very insightful for a department for improving safety in real time. A big focus that we have is then using that same information for driving improvements to the procedures and processes that happened after the scene has ended, such as maintaining equipment, training firefighters, and understanding their lifetime health and safety.

Can you talk a little bit about the development process of the Connected Firefighter Platform?

MQ: Voice of customer (VOC) activities are critical to how we develop products as MSA. It’s critically important for our engineers, our product marketers, and people who are responsible for designing and developing our products to have a partnership with fire departments to ensure that what we’re developing hits the mark and is actually solving a problem that they see in their everyday life.

VOC was a critical component of what led to our G1 SCBA becoming the G1 SCBA that it is today. More recently, our VOC collection activities have matured beyond just having dialogue and conversation to simulated experiences of using potential future products. We’ve evolved as our products and technology have evolved to create a much more immersive experience for firefighters and fire departments to provide us with valuable feedback.

SS: It’s not just a one-time conversation with the customer – as you’re going through the lifecycle or the development process, you’re continuously checking in with the customer to understand, ‘is this what you’re looking for? Does this meet the mark?’ The VOC process has helped us immensely as much as it’s helped the end user.

What has the customer response been to the Connected Firefighter?

MQ: We’ve had a lot of deeper, more intimate discussions with fire departments since we’ve launched the Connected Firefighter because of the capabilities of the technology provides. The Connected Firefighter has provided us the ability to work and partner with fire departments and show them discreetly how the products are being used, how firefighters are performing on scene, and opportunities that are discreetly understood and automatically provided in terms of making them visible to the fire department.

Before the Connected Firefighter existed, typically, the insights of how equipment was being used and how firefighters were behaving was circumstantial. It was word of mouth. It was what you visibly saw during a very stressful environment. I’m sure a tremendous amount of what actually happened either was not seen or potentially misinterpreted just because of all the chaos that was happening on the active scene.

The discussions that we’ve had have matured beyond just what the Platform is doing on scene, but also what this can do by giving access to data and making fire departments more capable, which was the aim of what we had when we started the Connected Firefighter journey a few years ago.

Are there any specific plans to further develop the platform?

SS: For FireGrid we have a couple of releases that we’re planning for in 2023. We will be expanding our inventory management platform on FireGrid to include both MSA and competitive turnout gear solutions – you’ll be able to add those into your inventory and track the history of those assets specifically related to cleaning and maintenance within the FireGrid platform.

We’ve also launched a large feature on FireGrid Monitor called Map View. We’re able to utilise the GPS location of our LUNAR devices to plot the individual firefighters on a map. You’re able to see not only air pressure from the G1 SCBA or any alarm status from the LUNAR device, but you’re also now able to see where that individual is relative to a location or building/structure.

We’re also advancing our FireGrid reporting capabilities. We will be expanding the data that we show within the reporting structure to focus on individual firefighter information as well.

MQ: In terms of how we’re planning to expand the platform, a lot of focus that we put into it is digitising and automating manual procedures that fire departments are actively doing today. A big one that we’re going to be launching this year is the reporting analytics capability. With the advent of a dashboard and deeper analytical tools, we’re able to provide insights a couple seconds after a scene has ended through an automatically generated report.

Typically, if there is an incident, a fire department has to manually create a report sometimes using pen and paper, by asking firefighters what happened. What we’re providing with these tools is the capability to automate that process – from an otherwise very manually intensive effort. We have a lot of launches this year that span the entire platform, including incident management, inventory management, and the reporting analytics capability that we’re planning to improve this year.

What is MSA showcasing at FDIC?

MQ: MSA’s aim for the show is to demonstrate the maturation and the growth that we’ve had with our Connected Firefighter Platform since we announced it in 2019. This year you’re going to see an explosion of new launches that we have on that platform, showing our continued commitment to growing and supporting our Connected products and our G1 SCBA which benefits from all this investment as well.

We had demonstrated a beta version of Map View at FDIC last year, and the response was overwhelmingly positive in terms of a visual representation of firefighter behaviour on scene. Now that we’ve launched it, that is something that we’re really excited for and getting strong feedback from customers.

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

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