NIOSH: Maintenance Caused Ga. FD's SCBA Issues

Results of recent tests performed by NIOSH following allegations by the DeKalb County Fire Department that Draeger Safety SCBAs were putting their firefighters in danger found that improper maintenance was to blame for the issues.

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Two facepieces and two second stage regulators from Draeger Safety SCBA models PSS700 and 4500 PSIG sent to the agency failed the pressure tests due to dirt on the exhalation valves, but after cleaning valves, the equipment passed the tests, according to the report released on July 3.

The investigation began on June 12 at the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory in Bruceton, Pa. by General Engineer Tom Pouchot as part of NIOSH's Certified Product Investigation Program.

The units were tested on June 14 in the NIOSH Respirator Certification Laboratory and representatives from NIOSH, NFPA, the Safety Equipment Institute, NFPA and Drager Safety all witnessed the testing.

The NIOSH report concluded that: "Users of SCBA units must pay close attention to the instructions for proper care and maintenance issued by the SCBA manufacturer. Maintenance procedures and training are unique to each respirator manufacturer and model; therefore, any equipment changes to the original respirator configuration may entail new training and maintenance requirements."

Draeger Safety officials welcomed the results as vindication amid allegations that continue to be reported on by Atlanta-based news outlets.

"We are pleased but not surprised by the results of the NIOSH investigation," Vice President of Sales and Service Tim Martin said in a statement issued Friday. "We take our responsibilities to the firefighters we protect with the utmost seriousness. We would never do anything to put firefighters and other first responders in harm's way"

Martin said that the NIOSH tests confirmed that manufacturer's original response to the falfunction allegations, which was that there was evidence of improper product use and maintenance in the equipment in question.

The Phoenix and Anchorage fire departments also have reported similar issues with their Draeger Safety SCBAs.

Recently, Phoenix officials canceled the department's contract with the manufacturer over their concerns of the equipment's safety.

DeKalb County records show that soon after the fire department began using Draeger Safety SCBAs in 2009, firefighters began reporting that their air supply would occasionally cut off, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

There have been a recorded 29 incidents in which firefighters were put in danger by the allegedly faulty SCBAs.

The latest such incident occurred on June 26 in which a firefighter was forced to bail out of second-story window as he battled a house fire after his air supply was reportedly cut off.

The veteran firefighter suffered a cut to his leg from broken glass and smoke inhalation and was treated and released from a local hospital.

"The firefighter did have to exit rather quickly," Deputy Chief Norman Augustin told the newspaper. "The incident is still being investigated, but we know there was an issue with the pack."

Martin said the company previously told fire officials that maintenance of the equipment was likely to blame for the issues and that the SCBAs were not prone to malfunction.

"We communicated this to the department and offered to re-train them on such procedures. Now NIOSH has confirmed that our internal analysis was indeed correct," he said. "We are reaching out to all of our fire departments and SCBA users to let them know the truth and to reconfirm the high quality of our life saving products. As we have said repeatedly, we stand by the integrity of our equipment."