1. #1

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    Default SCBA Newbie question

    Got an SCBA question for you guys I hope someone can answer for me. I'm a complete newbie to SCBA (I work as a paramedic exclusively) but recently had the opportunity to get suited up in a B Level Hazmat suit with SCBA as part of a mock chem spill exercise. Both the suit and the mask were too small to fit me properly (they were the only ones available) but since it was just a training exercise we went ahead and got me and another responder suited up anyways.

    The tenders had just finished taping the last of seams around the hood and the mask, but hadn't hooked me up to the air supply yet. I had felt fine up to that point, but within about 90 seconds of being fully taped up (but with no air running) I started feeling really air hungry. My understanding was that one can breathe through the port on a mask without the air supply hooked up without any problems, so I chalked it up to nerves/excitement and made an effort to relax and breathe normally. That did nothing to help, and I started getting -extremely- air hungry. I could feel myself beginning to panic, so I signalled to the tenders that I wanted the hood off. As soon as I got the hood off I pulled the mask away from my face a bit, got a good breath of air, and felt fine again.

    The incident got me wondering - should I have been able to breathe normally through the mask without the air supply running? For how long? I'm a big guy (powerlifter) and I probably have a tidal volume way above average. I've had my lung capacity measured with a spirometer at just over 9L, which is about 1.5x the average, if that matters.

    I've never had an anxiety attack or incident of claustrophobia in my life, but having treated other people going through them I'm wondering if that might not be the explanation for what I felt. All I know is that I was extremely uncomfortable, but would like to know why, and if it is going to be a potential problem for me in the future.

    Apologies for the long-winded question (no pun intended).

  2. #2

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    While I have never had a problem breathing through a mask, I have had the issue of the mask fogging up while waiting to go on air. My team typically has a couple of PAPRs available that we can go on while waiting. Especially in a hot environment, being on a PAPR will make things a lot better.

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    Depending upon the facepiece and your oxygen demand at the time, you may not have been getting adequate oxygen.

    It's also possible that you did in face experience some anxiety secondary to having the mask on. It could've been a perceived lack of oxygen or some form of claustrophobia. It happens to some people sometimes, particularly when they're working hard and breathing hard.

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    Believe it or not it actually sounds like you are a little closterphobic. I've seen similiar things happen with guys in my department. It's not all the scba that causes it. Your brain is telling you something isn't right by being in an incapsalatedsuit plus having the mask on and such. I may be wrong. I know that I have seen guys that are perfectly fine wearing an scba. But for some reason when they get in a class b or class a suit they freak out. It is nothing to be ashamed of by no means.

  5. #5
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    Default SCBA Familiarization

    Since your new to SCBA, I would start out by just wearing the SCBA by itself and go on air (if your department will let you) to get yourself familiar with breathing through the mask. Take a walk or perform very simple task with it on. In my fire academy, the SCBA portion was pretty extensive, starting with doing the exercise mentioned above and then gradually advancing to a more complex SCBA exercises. One of the more advanced SCBA exercises involved beeing fully bunked out, in a very confined space, and having to reduce your profile (meaning you have to take your back off your back, slide it in front or to your side of you, proceed to move through the confined space, all while still breathing through the mask.

    It just takes time to get use to having it on. Some of the fastest runners in my academy (7:30-8:30 per 1.5 mile times) would suck down a 30 minute bottle of air in less than 8 minutes at the start of SCBA training, most of them saying they were freaking out with the mask on. But as they got used to wearing it, they had no problems.
    IF YOU CAN'T TAKE THE HEAT, GO BE A COP!

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    I would say there is a real good chance that the majority of it was caused due to the fact that you are not used to it. I am really surprised that someone thought it was a good idea to have a completely inexperienced person not only put on an SCBA but also a level B suit.

    If this is a task that you may have to fill (even if only once in awhile), I would start training with an SCBA so you get comfortable. I have seen people that are NOT claustrophobic have anxiety when they first start using one, then with training they overcome it.

    ***This of course is my opinion and I am not trying to "dog" anybody.

    STAY SAFE!
    The success of a fire department depends on the willingness of its members to put aside their differences and work for the benefit of the dept/community.

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    I'm an explorer and I just recently got signed off on my FF1's SCBA portion.

    I experienced the same thing. I had a much harder time handling breathing through the mask rather than breather through the air supply.

    I was training with a personal friend of mine in one of Memphis' higher regarded stations, and I got laughed at hard for it. So I just took the mask and went about 5 minutes just wearing it, without the air supply hooked up. It's honestly not that bad once you get used to it, just a bit more labored. With what I was breathing through though, it was definitely harder to breathe then a traditional gas mask for chemical agents.

    So basically, my advice is to practice breathing with JUST the mask on. Don't bother with the air supply yet.

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    Angry Bad idea

    mick1975, I think the notion of putting an untrained person in any type of protective clothing is a VERY BAD IDEA! It presents a potential life safety problem to both you and the rest of your team.
    As you found out, your lack of experience caused you problems. Now think about what would have to be done if you had the same problem while in a hot zone. If you were in an area where an SCBA was needed, then unmasking could have been very dangerous to perhaps fatal.
    As both a safety officer and a member of a haz mat team, I think that whom ever thought of putting an untrained person in any type of haz mat gear should really have their head examined. Even if there are injuried people in the hot zone, you should not be taking the time to treat them there. You need to quickly get them to the emergency decon and then start your treatment after you have stopped the harm that the "material" is causing them. We have EMT's on my haz mat team that are also trained has haz mat tech and can do level A entry. They will be the first ones to tell you that with 3 layers of gloves on, it is impossible to treat some one. If you truely want to do EMS and haz mat, then good for, but please get the proper training. Haz mat is an area where "knowledge is power".
    "Your spill is our thrill."

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    Quote Originally Posted by mdcook View Post
    mick1975, I think the notion of putting an untrained person in any type of protective clothing is a VERY BAD IDEA! It presents a potential life safety problem to both you and the rest of your team.
    As you found out, your lack of experience caused you problems. Now think about what would have to be done if you had the same problem while in a hot zone. If you were in an area where an SCBA was needed, then unmasking could have been very dangerous to perhaps fatal.
    As both a safety officer and a member of a haz mat team, I think that whom ever thought of putting an untrained person in any type of haz mat gear should really have their head examined. Even if there are injuried people in the hot zone, you should not be taking the time to treat them there. You need to quickly get them to the emergency decon and then start your treatment after you have stopped the harm that the "material" is causing them. We have EMT's on my haz mat team that are also trained has haz mat tech and can do level A entry. They will be the first ones to tell you that with 3 layers of gloves on, it is impossible to treat some one. If you truely want to do EMS and haz mat, then good for, but please get the proper training. Haz mat is an area where "knowledge is power".

    Did you miss the part where he said that this was a training exercise?

    It seems that the only way to get an untrained person experience in hazmat PPE would be to put them in it for training.

  10. #10
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    Default Just My 2 cents

    I have read some very good points up to now and thought I would recap the best, and add my own 2 cents.
    1. It sounds to me as though you experienced a bit of claustraphobia, this is actually very common for first time scba use.
    2. Although it was a training exercise, it was the wrong time to introduce you to a SCBA. (introduction begins in a classroom)
    3. Just because it is training, doesn't mean that things cant go wrong and put you in danger.
    4. I recomend a progressive approach to SCBA training, Learn the tool(Inside & Out) Then practice in a familiar enviroment(try it on at the station in normal clothes, Then with PPE, & finally in an exercise enviroment.

    If then you feel uncomfrtable, you are like many responders that have minor clastraphia when wearing SCBA.

    Dont give up, keep practicing, and always BE Safe.
    Last edited by kbhi67; 03-23-2009 at 07:33 AM.

  11. #11
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    Post

    kbhi67, thank you for doing the wrap up. I was planning on adding those points to my previous post, but my pager went off. I was surprised that my reply was posted because I never hit the "Submit Reply" button.
    Yes KB10EV, I do know it was training and I agree with kbhi67's approach to SCBA training because that is how we do in my department. It should be a multi-step approach so that the trainee can get the knowledge they need to properly use the SCBA in a dangerous environment.
    "Your spill is our thrill."

  12. #12
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    I was surprised when I realized just how much air I went through during the first few times of using my SCBA. Not only was I nervous during these times, but my breathing rate went up and I started to suck all the air out of my tank too early. I found that by actually sitting down and playing a card game with the tank on helped me to understand just how much air I was going through and the differences between normal tank breathing and strenuous tank breathing. 10 mins dropped down to 7 when I was first using it. Rofl.
    Infinite In All Directions

  13. #13

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    Default Safety!

    Do not forget OSHA reg's. You should be fit tested for mask size and fit, trained, then tested on the SCBA donning and doffing before using. Masks come in sizes!

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