Rapid Intervention - Emergency Air Supply

When a Mayday is broadcast for missing, downed, or injured firefighters, locating the firefighter and ensuring adequate air supply are the most important functions the RIT can provide.

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Emergency air supply is a critical function that must be considered by the rapid intervention team. In most instances, when a Mayday is broadcast for missing, downed, or injured firefighters, locating the firefighter and ensuring adequate air supply are the most important functions the RIT can provide, prior to getting them out.

SCBA Incompatibilities
Low Pressure, High Pressure, Different Brand

The first step in dealing with incompatible equipment is to preplan prior to the emergency. Survey the surrounding departments and find out who has what. A couple of phone calls is all this step takes - and they're local!

The second step in dealing with this problem is familiarization. During the phone call, ask if you can borrow an SCBA so that members of your department can become familiar with it. Why is this important if you're bringing a fully-functional unit with you? This allows you to become familiar with the unit, check out the straps and how they adjust, how the unit goes on and can be removed, and how the face piece and regulator are attached. When operating as part of a RIT, in a no visibility environment, it may be your job to secure a firefighters air supply. That's not the time to become familiar with the equipment.

The third step is hands-on training! All firefighters should be given the assignment of securing the air supply of a downed firefighter that is using a different brand SCBA. The training should be done in no visibility conditions.

What tools and equipment do you bring as part of your rapid intervention team assignment? Are you prepared to deal with air supply problems of the distressed firefighters located by the RIT? Are your RITs taking a complete SCBA units (or streamlined versions, RIT Air Pack) with them when they are deployed? Have all members of the RIT been trained to quickly resolve any air supply problems encountered? In zero visibility conditions?

Does your department use personal quick-connect regulators or masks? What about surrounding departments? Is your equipment compatible with all other departments you respond with? Have you planned for incompatibilities? The list of questions on emergency air supply can go on and on.

There are a few options available to secure the air supply of a distressed firefighter.

Depending on the distance inside the building, and the proximity to an exit (window, door, safe area inside the building, etc.), one of the quickest ways to solve a low air situation is to remove the firefighter from the environment.

When choosing this option the RIT should be certain that they can get-in and get-out without problems and that the removal time would be quicker than securing the air supply of the downed firefighter. Tough call!

Many of today's SCBA units are equipped with buddy-breathing capabilities. By using a buddy-breathing hose two similar SCBA units can be attached and the air supply shared. An advantage of this operation is that the air supply of the distressed firefighter is never interrupted.

A major disadvantage is that the air supply is shared and two people are now using whatever air supply was available. Two people, twice-as-fast (roughly). The RIT must find the downed firefighters before addressing air supply (that consumes air). The air remaining after performing the search, coupled with the reduced air supply of the firefighters that were found, may not provide enough air to exit the structure. Remember, searching for and then removing a downed firefighter takes a great deal of effort and increases your air consumption!

Buddy breathing may be viable for inside pairs that run into reduced air situations. It may also work in the event that a downed firefighter is found by an inside crew. The distance inside the building along with the air remaining between firefighters will determine the outcome - Command should still be notified and the RIT activated. For RIT operations a complete RIT Air Pack is a much better option.

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