Training with SCBA: Is Yours Real, or Misleading?

Lt. Richard Wilson uses three of the NFFF's Life Safety Initiatives to illustrate the need to treat training with SCBA just as you would a real-life fire scenario.


This was very evident when I had the pleasure to observe structure training (with no fire) with an academy class. We had them run their bottles down to empty and remove the mask-mounted regulator if they ran out, yet continue the training. What were we thinking? We weren't! In my opinion, we helped minimize the safety issue of the low-air warning to brand new recruits! I can tell you this very next academy will not have this as a standard. This was a change in culture. Now think back to when you had SCBA training, other than consumption tests, when you were able to complete two evolutions before refilling a cylinder. What will you do differently next time?

The third initiative is #16 Apparatus and Safety: Most everyone in the fire service has an SCBA that has a low-pressure alarm. Do you know what tones it makes for low air versus sitting still? Are you well versed in the use of it? Do you have a heads-up display that will show you how much air you have left? Does your gauge reflect and is it reading the right pressure (within 10% of the bottle)? With the districts or municipalities purchasing the latest and greatest equipment and apparatus to aid in keeping their firefighters safe, are we ignoring the sounds? If we become trapped within a structure without knowing our air supply beforehand it may have disastrous results. Remember what LUNAR stands for? Can you complete this in a low-air supply situation? If you monitor your air supply, you should not become part of the problem. Try and use the method: half of a bottle to my location and another half bottle to remove myself from the same location without becoming trapped. If we work inside the IDLH atmosphere until three quarters of our air is consumed or until our low-pressure alarm sounds, then we try to leave the area, we may just be asking for a catastrophic problem to occur. Sure many of us laughed when we came out and the air ran out as we stepped over the threshold, me included many of times. This is not a cool thing to show our replacements. I can tell you this; if we continue to do this, the junior firefighters will become our replacements sooner than we wanted. This is not a standard practice we want to set for anybody following our lead. Everyone in empowered to start change, what are you waiting for?

Conclusion

I want to leave everyone with this thought. With all the new equipment that is available, along with mutual aid, we can change this culture; the one of overlooking training our firefighters to act like they would in a real-life situation. I am sure nobody reading this goes to an incident and consumes three-quarters of their air supply (SCBA) then places their air pack in service for the next incident without refilling it. Why do we do this on the training ground? Seek out ways to refill cylinders at training by securing a mutual aid cascade or have the students bring additional bottles for all the evolutions. Instructors, you need to build in time for refilling cylinders into your training plan. Starting all new academies with this mindset will allow us to assist with lowering the line-of-duty deaths in this county. Doing this change in culture with the current firefighters at all training facilities will empower them to identify needs and request changes within an organization. This by no means is meant to change anyone's operating procedures, just assist with identifying a cultural change with regards to firefighter safety while using equipment meant to complete given tasks. ?

RICHARD WILSON is lieutenant with the Bartlett, IL, Fire Protection District assigned to a tower company with 23 years in the fire service. He is a past member of hazardous materials and technical rescue teams. Wilson is a deputy chief with the Monroe Township, IL, Fire Protection District, an instructor of fire science programs with the Elgin Community College and is completing his bachelor's degree in fire science administration with Eastern Kentucky University.