The Myths of Air Management

Phil Jose, Casey Phillips, Mike Gagliano and Steve Bernocco discuss air management and techniques to learn and practice.


While we are teaching air management techniques across the country, students consistently ask many of the same questions. These questions, and the ideas they represent, are the “Myths of Air Management.” The fire service is legendary for its ability to resist change. Fortunately...


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While we are teaching air management techniques across the country, students consistently ask many of the same questions. These questions, and the ideas they represent, are the “Myths of Air Management.”

The fire service is legendary for its ability to resist change. Fortunately, regulatory authorities and the courts have decreased our ability to resist advances in safety techniques. Too many firefighters have paid the ultimate price, which has resulted in court-mandated changes to the way we do business. It is no longer acceptable for individuals or organizations to disregard advances in basic techniques or written standards until juries force them to comply.

Air management techniques are a new “basic skill” that all firefighters must learn and practice. Failure to do so will take you quickly to the “Point of NO Return.”

The following are the “Myths of Air Management”:

Myth No. 1 – Training is optional. This is the first and most obviously misguided myth relating to air management training. None of us would argue with the requirement for each firefighter to receive training in how to use self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). We all received this training in some type of recruit academy format when we came in. The SCBA is perhaps the most important piece of safety equipment in the American fire service. Most departments require periodic, documented training, so the question comes down to this: What SCBA training is “required” and what SCBA training is “optional”?

In response to this myth, we must pose the question: Who sets the standards for the American fire service? The answer is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). You may consider NFPA standards voluntary; however, what the judge and jury say is what matters most in the end. Most, if not all, states recognize some portions of the NFPA standards, and we would argue that fire departments have a moral and ethical responsibility to consider these minimum standards as they relate to firefighter safety.

NFPA 1404, The Standard for Fire Service Respiratory Protection Training, dictates how firefighters use, care for and train with SCBA. A quick review of NFPA 1404 will most likely confirm that your department is meeting most of the requirements of NFPA 1404 as they relate to mandatory training policies. You most certainly train new firefighters how to don and doff, how to obtain and maintain a seal, how to maintain SCBA and inform them of department policies on required use in immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) environments.

It is likely that you are neglecting two major required components of an SCBA training program as outlined in NFPA 1404. These are the subject of our approach to air management: “The determination of the point of no return for each member” and “Factors that affect the duration of the air supply.” Can you really sell the judge, or more importantly the jury, that your department provided training in some of the mandatory requirements of NFPA 1404, but thought other portions were “optional”? If you believe in this “myth of air management,” you or your fire department may end up in court one day.

Beyond the legalities and regulatory language, there is an innate responsibility we have to each other, our crew and our families to make sure we are doing everything we can to operate safely at every emergency.

Myth No. 2 – It takes too long to check my air. How long it takes you to check your air supply is a function of training. If you are properly trained, or train yourself, checking your air supply is a two- to three-second maneuver.

One thing that cannot be condoned is failing to perform a skill that improves your safety because you have not practiced enough to be proficient. This applies to many of the tasks that we do on the fireground. Do you perform your accountability functions? Do you put your SCBA on properly? Do you have your radio turned on to the correct frequency? Do you stay in contact with your buddy? Do you answer the radio when the incident commander calls you? Every action we take on the fireground takes time. The question is not IF you have the time, the question is will you TAKE the time to keep you and your team safe.

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