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S.C.B.A. Considerations

The question of "How long can you work while wearing an S.C.B.A.?" is definitely one that all firefighters should be able to answer without hesitation. Air management on the fireground is a topic that has been ignored far too long and deserves our immediate attention.

The first part in a series of articles focused on considerations for proper and safe S.C.B.A. use.

In a recent article, we discussed the concepts of Air Consumption for Fireground Survival. The question of "How long can you work while wearing an S.C.B.A.?" is definitely one that all firefighters should be able to answer without hesitation. Air management on the fireground is a topic that has been ignored far too long and deserves our immediate attention.

Waiting for the low pressure/25-percent alarm to activate and letting us know to exit is clearly not the answer. The signaling by the heads up display at 50-percent bottle capacity is also not the best answer as firefighters seem to take a complacent attitude towards it or become tunnel visioned on the fireground. From what it also appears, there are still too many departments that can not afford to upgrade their S.C.B.A. to the most recent edition of NFPA 1981 with advanced safety features. We must overcome these obstacles. Each of us has to take responsibility for managing our air while working on the fireground and stay aware of the conditions that surround us in relation to getting back out of the hazard area. As many instructors in this area have already stressed, we must change our attitude as a fire service and make the adjustments that are needed to remedy this problem that is often times linked to injuries and fatalities on the fireground.

Proper S.C.B.A. usage is often taken for granted. Just ask yourself, "How many times do we observe firefighters not wearing them properly--this means without the facepiece on in heavy smoke conditions, with the waist straps not fastened and tightened properly or how about not wearing one at all?" Our complacency often times leads to problems on the fireground and needs to be corrected. Even though each individual is ultimately responsible for their own safety, fire officers need to lead by example and also make corrections when they observe their members not complying with what is proper or needed in regards to S.C.B.A. usage. A lot of the problems and issues that we face can be addressed through policies and aggressive training efforts.

The S.C.B.A. is unarguably, the most important and widely used tool in the fire service today. Its use has greatly expanded the capacities of firefighters when performing aggressive interior searches and fire attack. No doubt, every firefighter needs to be thoroughly familiar with the specific piece of breathing apparatus that they will use. The training that firefighters receive must include aspects involving the use of breathing apparatus, air management, maintenance training and most importantly; emergency procedures in crisis situations. Basic drills such as donning units for time should be held on a continual basis. Familiarity with this piece of equipment can not be overemphasized, even for veteran firefighters who may think otherwise.

S.C.B.A. training should always begin at a basic skill level and rapidly work towards a more difficult, refined one as the student progresses. Repetition of skills needs to be emphasized as they must be practiced numerous times before proficiency is to be expected and review must also be on-going to maintain them.

The only boundaries that exist when training on S.C.B.A. are safety on the training ground and the physical abilities of the participants. Always monitor participants closely and make certain that proper rehab and medical assistance is available when training on S.C.B.A.

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