U.S. Navy Updating to all SCBA's
US Navy to update to SCBA, from US Navy News Service
NNS050910-04. Shipboard Firefighting Advances Increase Safety,
From Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Public Affairs
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Surface Warfare Center
(NSWC) Panama City (PC) is spearheading the Navy's transition
from using the Oxygen Breathing Apparatus (OBA) to the
Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for shipboard
NSWC PC has been driving the transition for the past few years,
and as of July, 144 of 188 ships and submarines have been
outfitted with the SCBA.
"Although Scott Health and Safety is the original equipment
manufacturer (OEM) of the SCBA, a commercial-off-the-shelf
(COTS) item," said SCBA Tiger Team Coordinator and Trainer
Thomas Hosea, "Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City has
been working with Scott since 1998 devising product
improvements and helping to adapt the SCBA for shipboard
NSWC PC Executive Officer Cmdr. Jeff Prater commended
NSWC PC's Damage Control Upgrades Program Project
Manager Mark Black and his team for their progress in
implementing the fleetwide SCBA installation, which has helped
enhance safety for U.S. Navy and Coast Guard shipboard
firefighters. The Coast Guard's Mine Safety Appliances SCBA
installations are managed by NSWC PC's Project Manager Kevin
USS Wasp (LHD 1), which Prater previously served aboard, was
one of many to have recently received the SCBA installation
"The SCBA has had a huge impact, not only on the Wasp, but
continues to positively affect almost all of the ships in the fleet,"
Black said COTS firefighting systems have "far surpassed the
Navy's archaic OBA, which has had relatively the same design
since its inception during the 1930s."
"The SCBA is safer too," added Hosea, "because it operates as a
back-worn unit that supplies a positive-pressure system, so that if
a face seal were accidentally broken, air would flow out of the
mask protecting the wearer from exposure to the smoke and
preventing inhalation of hazardous gases."
The OBA, in contrast to the SCBA, is a negative pressure system,
meaning that the outside air would be drawn into the mask if a
face seal were compromised, according to Hosea. He described
the OBA system as a "chemical-bed respirator," a type of
canister worn on the user's chest that removed carbon dioxide and
generated oxygen for a firefighter.
Black indicated that over time, scrutiny of the older system
revealed shortcomings when compared with technology's modern
advances, which led to the decision to modernize the fleet with the
"Aside from problems associated with the OBA's negative
pressure system, prototypes of similar chemical bed breathing
apparatuses' inhalation temperatures were too high to continue
development," Black said. "Add to that the OBA is worn on the
chest of the firefighter and then you have a maneuverability
problem. Whereas, the SCBA system's air cylinder is worn on the
Hosea said that NSWC PC has helped the OEM to increase the
durability of the SCBA aboard Navy ships. One example of
product improvement resulted in a four-fold increase in the impact
resistance of the face piece lens, greatly reducing lens cracking.
"Another improvement we added was the addition of a check
valve to divert air across the facemask lens, which keeps the lens
from fogging while Sailors are in passages waiting to go on air,"
According to Black, "it was providing a source of air that could be
re-charged quickly which enabled the SCBA to be adapted for
To accomplish this, Black explained his team planned to use Navy
ships' high-pressure air systems, filter the air, and then use a
booster pump to increase the pressure from 3,000
pounds-per-square inch (psi) to 4,500 psi.
"Additionally, because Sailors can remain 'on-air' with SCBAs
during drills, this increases the ship's readiness," Hosea added.
"By contrast, most drills using the OBA were only simulated due
to associated costs with the purchase and disposal of the older
Black said the newer equipment definitely enabled the fleet with a
much faster response to shipboard firefighting.
"When you consider divers typically charge at 200 psi per minute,
and we're taking a cylinder from zero to 4,500 psi in one minute,
this is amazingly fast," Black said.