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SCBA Considerations - Part 2: Emergency Check Procedures

This is the second part in a series of articles focused on considerations for proper and safe SCBA use. It is important to stress that the procedures introduced are to be utilized only under extreme circumstances. The procedures are meant to be utilized as last resorts in saving your own life or that of another firefighter.

It is imperative that a firefighter becomes thoroughly familiar with their breathing apparatus and posses a basic knowledge about preventative field maintenance for the particular unit that they are using. Minor failures such as free flow of air or improper connections are very common on the fireground. These are often the result of operator error or improper preventative maintenance. Upon reporting for duty, a firefighter should make it a point to thoroughly inspect and test the functions of the SCBA that is assigned to them for their tour of duty. This should also be repeated every time that the unit is put into use.

When a failure occurs in a hostile environment, a firefighter that is familiar with their unit will be able to remain calm and provide a remedy to the situation while exiting the area. The most important rule for a firefighter to remember in the case of a malfunction or depletion of air is to never remove the facepiece of the SCBA.  The facepiece itself will afford the firefighter some protection for their face, eyes, and respiratory area while leaving the hazardous conditions.

To find and remedy a failure, a standardized emergency check procedure is stressed. This ensures that a firefighter will find the problem and execute the proper procedure that will enable them to leave the hostile environment. The procedures listed can be modified to accommodate the different types of SCBA that may be in use.

How To Perform An Emergency Procedure Check

  1. Determine need. Is there a problem?
  2. Place left hand on facepiece
  3. Slide hand down mask - check regulator
  4. Check air saver or "on" switch
  5. Check by-pass or purge valve, is it open or closed?
  6. Follow line from regulator to pressure reducer - check for problems. Is there a rip or tear in the line?
  7. Check if cylinder valve is in open position
  8. Check if cylinder is securely connected to high pressure line
  9. Correct any problems found in check as you find them
  10. If not able to correct problem, leave area at once with assistance to safe area (call for a "Mayday" and consider buddy breathing)

The fireground is a very dynamic and dangerous environment. Every firefighter from the most seasoned veteran to the greenest rookie can experience a problem with their SCBA. Emergency procedures involving SCBA should be second nature to all firefighters. As with all aspects of firefighting, practice and training prior to an emergency will only increase a firefighter's chance for survival. (More information on Emergency SCBA Techniques can be obtained from the text R.I.C.O., Rapid Intervention Company Operations available through Thomson Delmar Learning.)


Jeffrey Pindelski is a 16 year plus student of the fire service and currently a Battalion Chief with the Downers Grove Fire Department in Illinois. He previously served for 12 years as a Firefighter and Lieutenant on the Truck and Heavy Rescue Company. Jeff is a staff instructor at the College of Du Page and also instructs courses at the Downers Grove Fire Academy. He has been involved with the design of several training programs dedicated to firefighter safety and survival and is the coauthor of the text R.I.C.O., Rapid Intervention Company Operations.