Air-Assisted Backpack Pump

Designed to be more comfortable to wear, safer, and less fatiguing during use on the fireline

Winner of Best in Category: Safety, Security, and Disaster Relief at the 2013 ACIDO Rocket Design Competition

Winner of the Kangaroo Group Design and Innovation Award at the 2013 ACIDO Rocket Design Competition

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A backpack pump is a tool used by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Fire Rangers. It is used to douse embers still burning underground after a main fire has been extinguished (a process called mopping up), and to extinguish light fuels such as grass fires. 


Why Redesign It?

There is a high prevalence of injuries among Fire Rangers due to their inherently dangerous job. Simple design changes to their equipment could be used to reduce the incidence of these injuries.

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Physically fit males and females between the ages of 18-65. Body sizes vary greatly between Fire Rangers, so designing to accommodate such a wide range of sizes will be a challenge

Design Constraints

  • Helicopter load restrictions
  • Harsh environmental conditions in the field (exposure to heat, cold, swampy areas, UV) 

Top Design Issues to Address

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Leaky Hose Connectors

Weight Distribution

Backpack Pump Filling

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Clogged Trombone

Stability of Pack

Trombone Loop

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Accumulated Perspiration

Hand Pump

Heat Transfer

Hand Pump Design Progression

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Benefits of the Rotary Piston Pump

  1. It is easier and less fatiguing to pump air into the bladder than to pump water out
  2. rotational motion is a more fluid action than the current method of pumping, resulting in less fatigue and added user comfort
  3. Pump can be used with only one hand, and can be hooked onto belt when not in use to free up hands

Rotary Piston Pump Design Progression

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Sewing the Backpack

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The new backpack is very slim and sleek to keep the weight of the water as close as possible to the centre of mass of the user. This is to improve the weight distribution of the pack. Sternum and waist straps also adhere the pack securely to the user, improving stability and balance. 

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Bladder Redesign

The shape of the bladder was altered to create a flat bottom, allowing the bladder to stand upright on its own. This facilitates filling the pack with water. It also conforms to the shape of the backpack to keep the water retained as close as possible to the user's back. A baffle was also included to greatly reduce the sloshing of water that occurs, which can throw the user off balance and cause an injury. 

User Testing

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User testing was designed to test primarily the stability and weight distribution of the new and old packs. An obstacle course was created that mimics the hazards Fire Rangers would typically be exposed to in the field, such as fallen trees, rocks, and generally uneven terrain. Larger obstacles and tight turns were incorporated to attempt to throw the participant's balance off, which would cause the water in the pack to slosh back and forth. After testing both packs, participants confirmed that the new pack design is much more stable, comfortable, and less sloshy. 


Ventilation Development

Branding Development

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The concept for the ventilation was to create an image that was representative of the users. The final design emulates a tree branch without being a literal representation of one. 

Because the OMNR does not have a strong brand presence, I decided to design a distinctive aesthetic look for the backpack. This provides better identification for Fire Rangers, and augments appeal for the equipment.

Final Model

Hand Pump

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The trigger is pulled between the palm and strongest two fingers (index and middle), resulting in less fatigue than standard triggers.

A wrist brace was added to counteract the movement of the hand pump while turning the crank. This reduces the strain placed on the wrist to stabilize the hand pump.

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An indent containing a magnet was added to either side of the bottom of the pump. The crank handle can be detached and reversed to fit into the indent. This allows the crank to be more integrated into the side of the pump, preventing it from getting snagged or damaged.

A groove on the underside of the pump allows the forearm to integrate with the pump, allowing it to sit more comfortably on top of the arm. The groove also helps to keep the pump stabilized on top of the forearm.

A hook on either side of the pump folds out so the pump can be hooked onto the backpack, freeing up both of the user's hands. The orange grips provide a location for the hands to hold onto the pump when hooking onto and detaching the pump from the backpack.

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Cap and Bladder

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The new cap has been split into two tiers, with the top tier having a smaller diameter and larger gripping surface, making it easier to open. The lower tier has a larger diameter to facilitate filling the bladder. The bladder features a flat bottom, allowing it to sit upright when filled with water. The shape was changed to conform to the user's back, moving the centre of mass of the water closer to the user's centre of mass. This adds stability and reduces the perceived weight of the water. A baffle was also added to the bladder to restrict water from slowing back and forth. This greatly reduces the change of being thrown off balance, leading to a decreased risk of injury. 


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A sternum strap, waist strap, and load lifter straps were added to increase the stability and weight distribution of the backpack. The sternum and waist straps act together to distribute the bulk of the weight to the hips, while the load lifter straps pull the weight closer to the back of the user. 

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A hose management of integrated loops helps prevent the hoses from getting snagged while walking through the forest. They also guide the hoses such that they do not hinder the user's arm movements. 

Branding on the front of the backpack helps identify the equipment. It is embroidered so that it lasts much longer than a screen printed graphic (which would eventually need reapplication from wear). 

The ventilation strips are necessary to allow perspiration to escape from the user's back. Its design also helps to brand the product. 

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The holes on either side of the backpack provide an attachment point for the quick connect to either side of the bladder, which allows the hand pump to be used by either hand. Each hole is reinforced with a metal ring to prevent wear and tearing.  

An integrated pouch provides storage space for a collapsible scoop. 



  • Graham Smith, Fire Crew Leader - Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Garry Harland, Fire Services Supervisor - Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Jim Dewar, Technician - Carleton University
  • Colin Roberts - Gibson Product Design Inc.  

Fall/Winter 2012-13

Project Duration: 8 months