BlastMask (REVIEW) …How are you training for respiratory endurance?

BlastMask (REVIEW) …How are you training for respiratory endurance?

Jason Bostic is a sixteen-year firefighter from Ohio that is still a student of the trade. He has seen and lived through the struggle to get “FirefighterFit”, having slimmed down 75 pounds and 10-inches at the waist. Bostic is an avid competitive stair climber both in fire gear and without who promotes firefighter wellness and a “pay forward” mentality for a variety of causes such as the Scott Firefighter Stair Climb, which benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

IMG_1490I ordered my BlastMask device for my personal Scott AV3000 mask just before the New Year and to my excitement it arrived quickly. A small five-inch cube brown box was waiting for me when I checked my mailbox at work. Quickly opening it I was met by the inner white packaging that held my newest training device. If you are looking for frills, confetti, instruction manuals, bubble wrap and swag, you might be disappointed, because inside you will find only the bold red BlastMask and a small instruction sheet.

Simple

Its simplistic in nature, but sometimes the most simplistic are often the best. I love the color of this device, red does happen to be my favorite color, but I instantly fell in love with the look and feel. To me, the equipment I use in training and elsewhere needs to have a certain feel and look to it. At first examination it appears to be constructed of at the most, three parts. The outer shell comprised of the large cup where the ring providing the breathing resistance moves, the end cap, which connects into your SCBA mask, and the black resistance ring inside that does the work. As I looked at it further, the simplistic nature, open design, and few parts appear to make disinfecting and keeping it clean to be a very simple task. This is not like a regulator with multiple moving parts that can be time consuming to clean. Simple steps that really amount to spray it, wash it out, and let it dry.

The next thing I thought of after handling the device was just how lightweight it is. When I picked it up I expected more, but their design does not seem to need a lot of weight and extra pieces. While the plastic (thermoplastic polymer resin) appears to be very durable, I’m not going to perform any drop tests on my own personal one to see if it can withstand the torture at this point. At the size of a small mug, or a stack of three hockey pucks, there really is not a lot that will be hanging off your mask and certainly won’t be obscuring your vision.

First thoughts after my use

IMG_1518I could hardly wait to get home the day it arrived to grab my Scott mask and make the connection to see what Blast Mask is about. As I hooked it into the AV3000 I found it to be very tight and at first I wasn’t sure if there was a problem getting the two to marry up. There is very little tolerance in the design, and when you do click it in place it is a solid connection with no leak. I’m also taking into consideration that the mask which I use is only three years old, only bought for training and has never been beat around in the rigors of the fire ground. I pulled my mask down onto my face, tightening the straps and took my first breath. Right away I could tell that this was going to make my body work harder and could feel the reduction in how air was moving for me.

Off to the stairs at home I went, up, down, and repeat for nearly fifteen minutes straight to the beat of my music. I did so with just typical gym apparel on for the first test so I could become more familiar and ease into working with their regulator. Initially after starting my workout I feared that my mask was going to fog and obscure my vision, but I was pleased to find this didn’t happen in my first trial. I changed to a higher tempo and more intensity, and while there was condensation on the inside of the mask, no fogging. With prescription lenses framed in my mask, sometimes fogging can be an issue, but not with their regulator.

I monitored my heart rate throughout my climbing with my Fitbit watch and when I looked at the data afterwards it appeared to mimic closely what I would see when I train in my SCBA.

IMG_1519My second scenario with the BlastMask I found different results and I believe mostly to the environment. I took to the stairwell at work where there it is a much warmer climate of around 75 at most times. Wearing almost identical clothing to my first trial I quickly got into my pace. Within a short period of time, my heart rate was into more of a cardio mode and ticking right along, my respiratory system being tested, and I was feeling my body temperature climb. Unlike last night I was getting more condensation and I had very noticeable fogging by 10 minutes. By 11:46 into my climb it was beginning to be very difficult to see. As I neared just over the 18-minute mark I decided to stop, not because of exhaustion, but because of almost zero visibility.

I have conducted a number of other tests with my BlastMask, and while the fogging can be annoying, it is most certainly a fog of the fireground that we are going to experience at some point. Tests from stair running, treadmill work, elliptical, and the rowing machine really all push my body more than before and I look forward to taking it into a few other simulations in coming weeks. The fogging of my mask is acceptable given the other benefits that I get from the use of the BlastMask regulator and the real feel that I get without using full SCBA.

Slightly humorous, but have you stopped for a moment to take a look in the mirror with your SCBA mask, BlastMask regulator, and any of the higher end black weight vests? Expect to draw a few odd and longing looks at the gym and if you’re taking a run through the community that someone is going to report it. Laugh it off, and take the opportunity to educate and inform them what the device does and what you are doing to better prepare yourself to come home.

Pros:

  1. Made in the U.S.A.
  2. What I see so far is a great device that is going to challenge the firefighter while wearing the Blast Mask regulator. In my testing thus far I felt firsthand the difference and was able to look at real numbers after my workout to compare.
  3. I see this being highly beneficial in firefighters being able to conduct cardio workout regimen without taking equipment out of service and dragging it to the gym or over to your firehouse fitness area. With this regulator, you’re going to feel the resistance as if you’re working on the fireground and can train for the cardio we do. Not everyone can afford their own SCBA to train with and I’ll be honest it can be annoying to run to the firehouse before every training session, grab a pack, use it, return it, fill it, and put it back in service before going home. Simply grab your mask and BlastMask and off you go!
  4. The device was $96. In the grand scheme of workout gear that I have or utilize, its not breaking the bank. Some firefighters and departments may think otherwise at the cost, but in the overall grand scheme of things it is miniscule in price.
  5. It doesn’t expire. There are no regulations on the device like there are with an SCBA. Through proper care, cleaning, use, and storage, this would be possible to outlast your gear and even the SCBA.
  6. No maintenance. Really just clean it, dry it and put it away. There is no testing required by your SCBA maintenance unit on a yearly basis to certify it. If it breaks in the first year, it’s covered by warranty.
  7. It’s a simple design that gets the job done. Less moving parts = more firefighter friendly!

Cons: 

  1. The only thing that I don’t entirely agree with is the “training like its real” statement that I see mentioned as being a benefit of the device. As a big-time air guy I train on air and want to see my guys clicking in and running through the tanks. Air at least in the case of my firehouse is free; we can fill our bottles with no problem and repeat. Sometimes it takes some persuasion to encourage that mentality everywhere that it costs us nothing to use our SCBA as intended. SCBA on air training is worthwhile because you need to condition the mind to monitoring that tank, and being on air, and the repeated muscle memories that go along with it. With that said, please refer back up to item number three above where I talk about it giving you almost identical feeling of being on air!
  2. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t, I think this is dependent upon the conditions, but in several of my trials it was a problem. If you’re doing SAR in zero viz it’s not going to be a problem, but if your thought it to toss it on and go for a bike ride you may have a small issue.
  3. No swag. Ok, this seems stupid and trivial, but when I purchase other equipment they send along a window sticker or helmet sticker, something. This regulator is well worth promoting and getting the word out there further.
  4. No storage bag. While it does need to dry after use for obvious reasons of contamination, I think at the price point they are marketing the regulator that it could come with some type of pouch. Whether it is slightly padded with some mesh, entirely mesh, or just a padded pouch, I think that it would help protect the Blast Mask.
  5. While it isn’t of much issue in my region of Ohio, I know in other areas of the state that SCBA manufacturers such as Draeger and SurvivAir are popular. Looking at the overall scheme of things I see this as simply a startup issue that they can potentially resolve, but they wanted to hit the two big manufacturers at launch.

IMG_1499Conclusion

Overall I see this as a great product that has worked well in kicking my butt thus far and I look forward to several events and months down the road where I can see results from the time invested.   If you’re looking for that one simple device to turn that workout up in 2016, this is it. This is a sure way to help improve the strength and endurance of your respiratory system. While there are other devices out there that you can wear for “elevation training” and to add to the resistance, there is not another product out there like BlastMask which interfaces with our PPE and lets us train in similar fashion to being on air and geared up.

I simply love the BlastMask and mine is riding around with my mask in a bag from GetHosedApparel.  Kudos on this great product, I am excited to see it excel and flourish and see what might be next.

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