SCBA Confidence For Fireground Survival

July 22, 2003
Self-contained breathing apparatus (S.C.B.A.) in years past was considered a tool used only by those firefighters of less ability, a tool of shame if you will.
Photo Courtesy Tim Sendelbach

Self-contained breathing apparatus (S.C.B.A.) in years past was considered a tool used only by those firefighters of less ability, a tool of shame if you will. Today, the modern fireground reflects one of many lessons learned from our predecessors, S.C.B.A. usage as a norm, rather than that of exception.

Today's firefighters are faced with a greater risk of inhalation hazards due to the many byproducts of combustion, some of which were never before imagined. Unfortunately, many lives continue to be lost despite the advancements in technology as it pertains to self-contained breathing apparatus and the strictly written national standards and departmental operating procedures/guidelines. In the year 2000 alone, five (5) firefighters lost their lives due to inhalation related injuries and several others died from asphyxiation following structural collapses.

In response to the continuously high rate of firefighter injuries and/or fatalities linked to respiratory related incidents, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted the highly debated 29 CFR 1910.134 regulation on respiratory protection in April of 1998. To many, this standard is recognized solely for it's infamous 2 in / 2 out ruling. Unfortunately, few have properly identified what this regulation brings forth as it pertains to respiratory protection and S.C.B.A. training for the modern firefighter.

This article and the associated drill sessions have been designed to identify and set forth a training program that supports compliance with this regulation and it's required S.C.B.A. usage and competency training.

*This article/program is in no way offered as a full-fledged respiratory protection program, rather a suggested training program to meet specific competency requirements set forth in OSHA CFR 1910.134 and the other applicable NFPA standards.


Photo Courtesy Tim Sendelbach

The use of self-contained breathing apparatus is considered a basic tool of the firefighting trade. Unfortunately, with this general assumption comes a complacent mindset and lack luster efforts in annual training and proficiency testing. The unending respiratory hazards faced by the modern firefighter bring forth a need for continuous evaluations in the use and proficiency of self-contained breathing apparatus. As trainers, we must design and develop drills that challenge and motivate those experienced members while maintaining a high degree of realism.

This article will provide a detailed training simulation that reinforces personal proficiency while emphasizing standardized emergency techniques to be initiated when encountering a sudden hazardous event on the fireground.


(k) Training and information. This paragraph requires the employer to provide effective training to employees who are required to use respirators. The training must be comprehensive, understandable, and recur annually, and more often if necessary. (k)(1) The employer shall ensure that each employee can demonstrate knowledge of at least the following: (k)(1)(i) Why the respirator is necessary and how improper fit, usage, or maintenance can compromise the protective effect of the respirator; (k)(1)(ii) What the limitations and capabilities of the respirator are; (k)(1)(iii) How to use the respirator effectively in emergency situations, including situations in which the respirator malfunctions; (k)(1)(iv) How to inspect, put on and remove, use, and check the seals of the respirator; (k)(2) The training shall be conducted in a manner that is understandable to the employee. (k)(3) The employer shall provide training prior to requiring the employee to use a respirator in the workplace. (k)(4) An employer who is able to demonstrate that a new employee has received training within the last 12 months that addresses the elements specified in paragraph (k)(1)(i) through (vii) is not required to repeat such training provided that, as required by paragraph (k)(1), the employee can demonstrate knowledge of those element(s). Previous training not repeated initially by the employer must be provided no later that 12 months from the date of the previous training. (k)(5) Retraining shall be administered annually, and when the following situations occur: (k)(5)(i) Changes in the workplace or the type of respirator render previous training obsolete; (k)(5)(ii) Inadequacies in the employee's knowledge or use of the respirator indicate that the employee has not retained requisite understanding or skill; or (k)(5)(iii) Any other situation arises in which retraining appears necessary to ensure safe respirator use. CRITICAL FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN CONFIDENCE TRAINING: Psychological and Physiological problems - In order to become and/or maintain proficiency in the use of an S.C.B.A., a firefighter must overcome any psychological or physiological barriers associated with the operation and use of an S.C.B.A. Although few firefighters will openly admit it, we all face these barriers to some degree. Psychological barriers might include simple hyperventilation during stressful or complicated operations that may lead to a rapid decrease in operational work time, dizziness and/or lightheadedness. Physiological barriers might include an episode of claustrophobia due to the unusually tight working conditions or inability to determine his/her surroundings. Typically these problems are the direct result of improper or insufficient training early on in ones career. Regardless of their causes, we as trainers must quickly identify these issues amongst our members and attempt to remedy them with safe and effective training methods. S.C.B.A. confidence training takes time and each individual must be allowed to progress at an acceptable pace to ensure these barriers are identified and overcome successfully. COMPETENCY BASED SKILLS: S.C.B.A. EMERGENCY OPERATIONS: Throughout a firefighters career he/she will face a variety of equipment failures that may jeopardize his/her safety if not quickly corrected. No such failure is equal to that of an S.C.B.A. emergency during a firefighting operation. Today's firefighters must maintain a high degree of confidence and personal proficiency in handling S.C.B.A. emergencies. The following; although not comprehensive, is a list of the most common S.C.B.A. emergencies encountered by firefighters and some suggested solutions for each: PLEASE NOTE: The four (4) most critical actions in each of these situations are: 1. Remain CALM 2. Notify Your Partner/Command 3. Activate Your P.A.S.S. Alarm 4. Search For/Fin An Exit Facepiece Removal - Firefighters should be taught NOT to remove their facepiece if at all possible. Human nature is to immediately attempt to remove the facepiece; proper training and strict discipline must be enforced to prevent such action. Failure to follow this rule may expose firefighters to super-heated air and toxic gases causing immediate death. Remember, your facepiece is your lifeline to your S.C.B.A., without it, your chance of survival is drastically reduced. Air Supply Stoppage - Get as low as possible, begin an emergency assessment by first attempting a

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