NFPA 1981 2013 Edition: What Do You Need to Know?

The publication of the 2013 edition of NFPA 1981 on self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) took place this week and three changes will take center stage with the new edition.


The NFPA 2007 revision brought changes to testing requirements for voice intelligibility. This is again be approached in the 2013 revision. In the previous edition, testing is performed with five listeners recording words read by a speaker outfitted with the unit being tested. This is done with 70 decibels of background noise. A score higher than 85 was required for passing with distances between the speaker and listeners being 15 feet.

The 2013 revision will set requirements to remove subjectivity from the testing process. Specialized testing equipment will replace humans to simulate sounds and communications. These tests will also be performed for mechanical as well as amplified communication performance.

Changes To The End of Service Time Indicator

The most noticeable change with the revision of the NFPA 1981 standard will be seen with new requirements for the end of service time indicator. The requirement for the end of service time indicator has been 25% of the cylinder's rated capacity. The new requirement will mandate that the alarm now sound at the point when 33% of the cylinders rated capacity is reached.

This will be a difficult requirement for a lot of firefighters to accept because it is something new and different from what they have been accustomed to throughout their careers, but lets face it, 25 % warning is not adequate and it can even be debated that 33% is still not enough.

NFPA 1404 has stated for more than several years now that firefighters must drill on and practice sound air management techniques and that we should be outside of the hazard area when the end of service indicator activates. With the changes in today's fireground environment changes like this only make sense for the better which can be discussed in length way beyond the scope of this article.

Along the lines of this change, heads up display (HUD) indicators will now be required to display signals at 75%, 50% and 33% as opposed to just 50% in previous editions.

The one area in which some operational challenges can be encountered due to these changes though is the instances in which departments can not replace or retrofit all of their SCBA. units at one time and have units meeting the previous NFPA requirements commingled with new 2013 compliant units on their apparatus. Serious thought and consideration must be given to this area by departments if this situation can exist and a clear solution of how to deal with this must be understood by all department members using the equipment.

Not as prominent, but still important to mention is that minimum performance requirements will also now be listed for emergency breathing support systems (EBSS) in the 2013 edition. It has never been previously recognized or accepted by NIOSH.

Intrinsic safety requirements to meet Class 1, Division 1 as set forth in the 6th edition of UL 913 will also be called for. This requirement will also be present in the new edition of NFPA 1982 which covers PASS devices. As a side note, the 2013 edition of NFPA 1981 will call for a universal alarm for all PASS devices from the pre-alarm to the full alarm stage.

The best comment that I can end this article with is to make certain that firefighters on your department are trained to a level that will help them feel both comfortable and confident in the SCBA that they use. In addition, solid skills in risk/benefit analysis go a long way on the fireground. Standards and improvements definitely help us in making certain that our firefighters are given the proper equipment and tools to work safely, but without proper training they do not provide us with any advantage. Remember, standards have been written as a result of problems being identified that have caused us to have someone seriously hurt or killed in the performance of their duties. Keep your people informed and trained on the equipment that their lives depend on.

You can find NFPA 1981 at: www.nfpa.org/1981

JEFFREY PINDELSKI, a 24-year plus student of the fire service, is the deputy chief of operations with the Downers Grove, IL, Fire Department. He is a Firehouse.com contributing editor and is the co-author of the text: R.I.C.O.- Rapid Intervention Company Operations, and is a revising author of the third edition of the Firefighter's Handbook. Pindelski has earned a masters degree from Lewis University and was a recipient of the State of Illinois Firefighting Medal of Valor in 1998.