1. #1
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    Question How do you overcome SCBA fears?

    I feel like a total moron asking this but I can't be the only person who has ever totally disliked wearing that mask. I need to learn how to get over the feeling that I am being suffocated when I am using the SCBA. I feel like it won't give me enough air. I naturally take short little breaths too, and I breathe fast. Add a little panic in there and you can imagine the results. I really want to be able to overcome this! Has anyone else dealt with this? Any ideas? If nothing else I don't want to be the person everyone hates because I go through a bottle in 10 minutes.

    Thank you,

    Aerial

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    Is your department aware of this issue?

    If so, my suggestion where it alot around the station. Where it doing everyday things that are non-stressful to you like building maintenance, equipment checks, etc. You know like the proverbial 'become one with the SCBA'

    I never had the problem that you refer to however after completion of the SCBA portion of FF 1 (10+ yrs ago) my Training Officer at the time made us where the SCBA hanging around the station doing everything like paperwork, truck inventory.. even made us watch a little TV wearing it. I was comfortable with it anyway, but it still helped get that increased comfort adjusting to the change in your center of gravity, the change in your profile size when navigating hallways, etc.

    Try it see if it works. But please be sure your Officers know about this problem. If you need to keep it between you and the officers and don't want it publicly advertised around the department, ask if you can take an SCBA home and do the same thing I stated above.

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    First try putting the mask on without hooking into the air supply. Sit there and breath that way for a little while. Then once you get used to the feeling of the mask on your face, turn on the air supply and begin breathing air off the system. Again, sit there and focus on breathing normally.
    Once you are more comfortable at this step, try to out breath the regulator on the system. I am willing to bet you wont be able to do it, there is more than enough air available. Then begin doing routine tasks with the pack on and eventually you wont really think about it.

    What you are experiencing is physiologically normal. Unless it is a clausterphobic(sp?) response, it will get better with time in the pack.
    Shawn M. Cecula
    Firefighter
    IACOJ Division of Fire and EMS

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    Default scba Fears

    When the first SCBA's came out I really did not like the feeling of the tank on my back and the mask. Of course this was the old scott style which had limited padding on the pack frame and a very hard mask with a narrow viewing area when looking out.

    What a bunch of us did was get approval to use many bottles of air to allow practice in wearing and working with the apparatus. We started wearing the SCBA's around the station and doing different normal things such as watching TV, cleaning the station, washing the apparatus, etc.... This got us use the the feeling of both the tank weight and how it shifted around when bending over and reaching out along with the viewing angle of the mask and how it reacted when changing facial expressions.

    We then started to simulate the searching of rooms and the way the comunication between the crew members would be affected. then we tried to use them during roof ventilation operations on a low roof with a lot of people to make the members feel safe. Our findings made us change a few of the procedures we were using to searching rooms but overall the members got used to them

    Even now it has taken me a while to get use to the new scott packs we started using last year. The biggest difference is the pack frames are very comfortable and the tanks are very light. I hope this helps you out.

    Be safe and be sure all crew members come home !!!
    "Fire Prevention is our Intention"

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    I couldnt agree more with all of the responses that have been given. We have a member that was in your same situation a couple of years ago, the person felt the same way you do. If you can get one of your officers to help you out and do stuff around the station even if its reading these responses with an scba on, over time you will become more comfortable. The member at our station did all of the above mentioned activities and within a couple of months the fears were gone. I took this member into their first working structure fire and they did a good job, now this member is one of the first people to start packing up on the way to calls. Good luck and just make sure to do it with some supervision the first few times and most of all relax.

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    Thumbs up

    That's a great question - one that I was afraid to ask myself 10 years ago.
    The SCBA still bothers me, but just as the guys stated above, with practice, that fear will become more manageable. Those little tasks the guys suggested are a great way to overcome this concern of yours.
    I run Combat - it's my passion. As most people know, the firefighters are required to wear the Pak while competing. This was a big challenge for me to overcome - and it didn't happen over night. The firefighter Combat Challenge is the most strenuous activity a firefighter can face in such a short amount of time. It was designed to be that way. So putting on a pak and working at that level of intensity makes me feel like I'm breathing through a straw. So to reduce the anxiety I felt, I practiced walking up and down stairs for 20 minutes while breathing air. When I was comfortable with that, I started to run up and down the stairs. Not continuously mind you, but for a few minutes with a rest break in between. Eventually, you’ll reach a point of fatigue and anxiety that you’ll want to rip the mask off your face. Try to resist this urge and fight through it. Calm your self down and focus on your breathing. With practice, this urge will gradually disappear.
    I still have difficulties – but I practice lots and it helps immensely. If I didn’t put the pak on in a year though, I’d be back to square one.
    Train Hard – You’ll get through it!
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    aerial - I tip my hat to you, it takes a lot to admit a fear, a fear that we all have gone through. I can't offer anymore advice that what was already mentioned. These are all great ideas. All I can tell you is I had the same fear. Sometimes I think I still do.

    Remember, you always have the the purge valve. By all means open it up when you feel you're not getting enough air.

    For me, it's the initial "putting the mask on" that at times freaks me out. Once I get involved with whatever I'm doing I forget about that fact that I have someting over my face.

    When I feel that I "FREAKING OUT" I just stop for a second, close my eyes and concentrate on slowing my breathing down. Then open up and continue doing what I need to do. You're putting that mask on for a reason! Forget about the mask and do what you need to do.

    Good luck.
    Jim
    Firefighter/EMT
    IACOJ
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    September 11, 2001 - NEVER FORGET!

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    Exclamation

    No different than when I first started wear the OBA's and the all service and the scotts, that were in a compartment on the truck under some salvage covers.

    You have to get use to the face piece, without being on air. Put the thing on and wear it around the house and breath normally and talk to others there. I even seen a guy with the only the face piece on, reading the paper out loud. It works.

    After you get use to the face piece, connect to and go on air. Sit there and get you self use to that. There are ways to get ones self adjusted to the scba and learn how to use one. I could make a 30 minute cylinder last almost 30 minutes by control breathing.

    Practice with your equipment. Practice, practice, practice and when you think you have masterered it, PRACTICE some more.

    Good luck.

    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    I have mentioned my discomfort to the training officer but all I got from him was basically it is common and some story about how one of his trainees puked in his mask because he freaked out. Yeah needless to say it didn't help too much! I don't have a problem with having the pack on my back or the mask on my face its just the actual breathing from the regulator. I like the feeling of having air all around me avalible anytime I want it to breathe :-) I don't know maybe I am just wierd! What really sucked was we had a fire last week and the training officer was trying to find me so he could take me in! Granted that would have been awesome but I could just see myself spazing out in front of my own department plus the 3 other departments that responded. Who knows maybe if it was down to business time I might have been okay. I actually hide my fear very well. I guess alot of it is that I don't want to come off as a weenie :-) Maybe I should just tell him that I would like to get more comfortable with the SCBA and ask if I can wear it around insted of flat out saying it freaks me out.

    Thank you,
    Aerial

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    Aerial,
    WEll done for your honesty. I was very young when I joined the Fire Service...18 in fact. I passed the 16 week Training course including 2 weeks in BA no problems...but back then I was posted to a very busy area of East London...'thrown in at the deep end' pretty much sums it up.

    Before long, I was wearing SCBA in fires, but being a little immature I guess it was too much too soon, the horror of the realities of the job got the better of me and I found myself dreading going into fires...

    I had a very experienced Sub Officer (Lt) who detected all wasn't well with me. He spoke to me in private and 'coached me' through various senarios. Although I wasn't exactly claustrophobic, it was a combination of fear of the fire, the awful heat... these were the days before hoods... and the fear and responsibility of looking for a casualty.

    We dealt with these issues one by one, he got me to wear BA in a whole range of ever more difficult scenarios, whilst keeping me held back at the jobs until at least one other crew had been in.

    Within a few weeks I was fine and I have never looked back. Just tyr to relax, look at everyone around you...they are all getting air, so are you. Control your Breathing, get used to wearing the set around the Station and they will soon be having to put you on a leash.

    Best of Luck!!!
    Steve Dude
    IACOJ member
    www.fireservice.co.uk

    London Fire Brigade...."Can Do"


    'Irony'... It's a British thing.

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    I'm still a recruit, but as part as my offtime I work with one of the FFs to make me 100% comfortable packed out, exhausted, with and without any sight(wax paper over my mask.)

    He'll have me unrack-rerack weights, do squats, climb steps to get me exhausted. Then I'll do the same thing with my nomex over my mask. Also throwing me in a pitch black room and do a little search and rescue.

    I've found this time to be invaluable thus far. I have no problem with being fully packed out, but restrict my vision to nearly nothing, stick me in a tiny tunnel to crawl through while pulling a hose and i find myself VERY uncomfortable.

    But take my post as a grain of salt, i'm still lower than whale **** (-:

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    Aerial,

    I might be able to offer help from a little different angle. The posters who have already contributed advice have spent WAY more time packed up than I have, so...

    I am an Anesthesiologist, so I make my living with a mask. "Mask-o-phobia" is fairly common, and you are not alone. Over the years I have found a few ways to deal with it, because some patients need a mask while awake. You have stumbled onto the first important fact, and that is that the mask itself is a different problem than regulator breathing. Since you really don't have much trouble with the mask itself, I will move on to the regulator. Do these things only with the approval of your superiors and technical support. First, the creepy sensation you get from the regulator relates to the nature of the valve itself- it is a DEMAND valve, meaning that you must generate negative pressure (suck in air) to get it to flow. That feels strange! One thing I would suggest is that you NOT put on the mask, but breathe with your mouth over the regulator port if your system allows. This will enable you to play with the negative inspiratory pressure required to trigger the valve, without the feeling of being trapped inside the mask. Breathe through the regulator without a mask while sitting watching TV, etc, in low stress environments. This may enable you to get used to the negative pressure triggering before you put on the mask.

    One other method you might discuss with your technical support staff is adjusting a regulator just for you to practice in. The Negative Inspiratory Force ("NIF") can be adjusted (by a technician) on most regulators so that it only takes a tiny amount of NIF to trigger the demand valve. It would be much easier for you to tolerate a very small NIF in the beginning, and then have your techs slowly increase the NIF to normal values over a few days as you adapt. The down side to a very small NIF is that the valve triggers too easily and can waste air, so you would want it at a normal setting for actual fire use. IF, repeat IF, it's OK with your chief and technicians, you might try the reduced NIF for learning purposes. I think it will surprise you how you feel less "air hunger".

    One last suggestion- if you are uncomfortable with the mask itself (no regulator) you might want to wait before you wear the mask alone. The "dead space" inside the mask is a little like breathing through a snorkel, as it requires larger breaths to clear the same amount of CO2, so it in itself can create a little "air hunger". As you adapt to the regulator breathing, try adding the mask.

    Just a few tips from a rookie FF/experienced MD- hope I can help a brother. VfdDoc

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    Originally posted by aerial
    ...all I got from him was basically it is common and some story about how one of his trainees puked in his mask because he freaked out. Yeah needless to say it didn't help too much!
    That sounds like some of the useful information I get where I'm at.

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    All excellent suggestions .. I think the key is here gradual steps and you will be fine. Start out by doing some basic tasks ... then move to light exercise such as walking ... then maybe a little more strenuous exercise .. then move into fire senerios where you can remove the mask if you must such as search in a dark room or with light machine-generated smoke. Once you are comfortable there , start to go into fires with an experienced firefighter.
    Also search out an experienced member of the department you can trust to assist you as your training officer seems to be a useless resource on this matter.

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    This is one of the truest reasons why forums like this exist. I applaud you brother for bringing your personal questiont to light. Everyone gave great input. I also in the beginning had an adjustment period to breathing throught the regulator. Especially when you get out of breath. I also did many of the things mentioned, and I also was in a position where it wasn't easy to bring up, being I came from a firefighting family with high respect and expectations and in the end it was my father who worked with me to help me out. Try to always stay focused on the task you are performing, additionally sometimes you may just have to stop and take a nice deep breath and slow yourself down and tell yourself, its not me I can breath and get over your mind telling you otherwise. When all else fails, crack your purge or bypass valve and get a couple of good breaths of positive pressure air and shut it off. Plus remember, the amount of time you consume air doesn't make you any less of a man. Sometimes the nature of the work will dictate how quick you'll suck one down. That is why you should have plenty of resources to rotate, the bottle can be refilled.
    Remember fear is a natural thing. You can either control it to your advantage or let it control you. The purpose of effective training is to have the skill to be confident and to control the fear through knowledge of yourself, your equipment, your function and surrounding. It just takes time brother, don't quit, you are definately on the right path and have the right mindset!!!!

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    I think everyone has made some great posts here, and I would also like to commend you on coming forward!

    I have had a couple of firefighters with the same type of anxiety in my own department. We are a combination department, and the anxious people are reserves. We make sure that all the officers are aware of this and never push the issue with them. They are all working on becoming less anxious and all are doing well. With the officers being aware, it lessens the chance that one of them will point at them and tell them to mask up. We also tell these people to let others who are able to mask up on the first out trucks to ensure a fully functioning crew on first arriving trucks.

    There is plenty of work for these people on the outside and we always make sure someone is willing to work with them to over-come the anxious feeling.
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    In due time of practice you will get used to it . we had a guy that when he was a probie he used so much air at fires we called him hoover when he first started , but even he in due time with practice get used to the idea of breathing on air , and heck i am sure you could always wash a truck or 2 with the air pack on !!!

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    Thumbs up good luck !

    I agree with what everyone posted here about wearing it frequently while doing ordinary tasks. Also gradual wearing while doing said tasks. I found that humming or singing a tune to myself conserves air and also gives your mind something to focus on. Try to "psych" yourself up that 1) it will give you plenty of air 2)that by doing something else or as above will ease your mind from thinking about it not giving you enough air, and thridly and what I feel is most important is that when you are wearing it whenever, on the scene or at the station, when the low air alarm sounds do not panic. You will want to but certainly dont get overly excited. As you can hopefully tell, this is really what the forums are suppossed to about.
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    Thank you all so much for your great advice! I love these boards! By the way I am not a brother I am a sister

    Aerial

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    Default Re: How do you overcome SCBA fears?

    Originally posted by aerial
    I feel like a total moron asking this but I can't be the only person who has ever totally disliked wearing that mask.
    The only stupid question is the one you don't ask - so definently don't feel like a moron. And frankly this has been one of the few questions on here lately that hasn't already been beaten to death a thousand times over.

    I had similar problems when I first started about 16 years ago. The way I solved it was by focusing intently on self control while wearing SCBA - almost to the point of being zoned. I also kept telling myself that what I'm breathing right here right now in my mask is really good, and that the air just the other side of that clear little bit of plastic is really really crappy, so I'd better concentrate on liking the air coming in the way it is, because although it may not be a natural feeling, it's better for me than what's on the other side. It also helps if you can relax - I know that's not easier when you are inside a burning building, but try to relax when on live burn drills etc. It sounds like your training officer is not going to be very helpful, so instead look for someone else in the department to help who is a very placid, laid back, patient person.

    If you are worried about freaking out in front of your department members and getting a bad reputation, consider taking a two or three day interior firefighting course with an organisation like Fire Dept Training Network - Fire Department Training Network - you will learn heaps, get plenty of hands-on training, and Jim and the guys are great instructors who are very understanding, so if you explain your problem to them they will partner you with someone who is very experienced and patient.

    Different people react in different ways, and resolve their problems in different ways. I instruct Scuba diving these days as well, so I get to see these problems a lot. One thing I've learnt while instructing is to be patient, don't rush these people, and let them go at their own pace. Unfortunately most Scuba instructors don't have the patience (or their employer doesn't allow them the time) to enable diving students to go at their own pace, so those that have problems end up dropping out of the sport.
    Busy polishing the stacked tips on the deckgun of I.A.C.O.J. Engine#1

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    Well Sister Aerial back in 1993 I discovered that I had the same problem. I have the same passion as Wildman does in that we take part in the Firefighters Combat Challenge. It was in the middle of the victum rescue that I experienced, what I found out later to be, mask induced panic. Doing the everyday stuff did not bother me at all. It would only happen when my pulse was severly elevated, like working real hard. The information that I found was to increase your aerobic capacity. I did that and havee not a had a problem since.

    Steve Bourassa (Lt)
    Latham FD (NY)
    member since 1969
    challenge competitor since 1993

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