Q & A: David Bernzweig

Columbus (OH) Division of Fire Lieutenant David Bernzweig answers questions regarding his recent Webcast presentation, “Who’s Got Your Back? Your Next SCBA Purchase or Upgrade.” You can watch an archive of the presentation on demand for free HERE.

My department just received our AFG award for SCBAs…There is a huge debate over 30 vs. 45-minute cylinders (4500 psi). I see pros and cons to both; stress vs. more air for rescue. What’s the latest buzz regarding this controversy?

This topic was covered extensively during the Webcast. The short answer is that the continued use of the 1200L (30-minute rated) cylinder by the fire service is questionable at best. This cylinder volume does not provide for both an adequate work period and a safe exit and emergency air reserve.

When can we expect testing and suggestions regarding new SCBAs?

I am not sure what is being asked here. Manufacturers are constantly testing and marking new SCBA features. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Respiratory Protective Equipment (TC-RPE) does its best not to limit innovation for new SCBA.

Any idea when they might eliminate the 1200L cylinders, as part of future standards slide?

If it were up to me, this would have already happened (at least for fire service use). It seems to me that both the mood of the fire service community and many of the ‘Users’ on the NFPA TC-RPE has begun to shift away from the continues use of the 1200L cylinder. I would imagine that this will be a significant point of discussion before the 2012 edition of National Fire Protection Association 1981: Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services is released.

What is UAC in reference to a rapid intervention team (RIT)?

The term UAC stands for Universal Air Connection.

What is EOSTI?

The term EOSTI stands for End-of-Service-Life Indicator. It is the technical term for what the rest of us call the low-air alarm.

We have heard that EOSTI alarms that cause vibration or noise in the facepiece have been found to impede communications in a Mayday situation. Is there anything in the future NFPA or NIOSH regulations that may address this?

This specifically has not been a discussion that I am aware has occurred at the technical committee-level yet. However, improving firefighter communications is a constant topic of discussion. I am a big proponent of in-mask communication systems. In my experience, both the EOSTI and the PASS alarms do not significantly interfere with fireground communications when using these systems. In the future, I will certainly use this angle to help drive the point home.

In your opinion, how important is SCBA interoperability with mutual aid departments?

The answer to this question will vary by jurisdiction and the degree to which you work with mutual aid departments. The question that you need to ask yourself is ‘What are we trying to achieve with interoperability?’ and ‘Can we achieve this goal by other means?’ You also need to consider the relative value of the ‘interoperability’ gain versus the loss possibly associated with limiting your selection options. As an example, if you wanted to purchase 45-minute rated cylinders, but you mutual aid counterparts are in 30-minute rated cylinders, how would this affect your ‘interoperability’ decision? There are also variations in cylinder pressure to consider (2215, 3000, 4500psi).

Why has the NFPA and some manufacturers spent so much time on gizmos like lights, noise, and electronics. The main purpose of a SCBA to breath. No improvements there for more than 15 years Why?

Although parts of the SCBA have certainly evolved into a more complex piece of equipment, most of these changes have been added for your safety or as a result of the fire service asking for new features. One of the jobs of the NFPA RPE-TC is to try and ensure that the SCBA continues to do its primary function, despite the introduction of new technologies.

I cannot speak to any manufacturer’s decision to bring certain features to market. They have big market research firms that help them to decide what the fire service market wants.

Who’s looking at making the future SCBA type showed during the Webcast?

The project has been spearheaded by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). They are working with the various SCBA manufacturers to help bring this product to market. It is my understanding that this new cylinder technology will not be limited to just a few manufactures, rather it will be available for any SCBA manufacturer to adapt to their product.

We have [a particular brand of SCBA] which we want to replace. They are heavy and bulky. Under 42CFR84.89 subpart H the complete charged SCBA should not weigh more than 16kg…a 45-minute bottle [of this brand] weighs more than 16kg.

This is a false statement. [This particular brand] with a 45-minute rated cylinder (complete assembly, fully charged) weighs 13.73 kg (30.20 lbs). The heaviest [of this particular brand], with 60-minute rated cylinder, weighs 15.09 kg (33.20 lbs). [The manufacturer] would not be able to get an overweight SCBA certified by NIOSH.

Regarding these escape cartridges, if a department were to provide them to their firefighters, would they be liable since there is no certification for them?

That is a question for your department’s legal counsel.

Have the standards committees considered upping the low air alarm setting from 25 percent to say 35 percent? Should it be staggered based on the size and duration of the cylinder?

Historically, the NFPA RPE-TC has not addressed this issue because it was restricted by the NIOSH requirement and may be seen as circumventing the federal rule. There has been a move underway to change this piece of federal regulation.

As for adjusting the set point depending on cylinder volume, I would agree that this makes some sense. The low-air alarm should be based on a minimum required volume of exit/emergency air reserve air, not a percentage of a variable cylinder volume.

I like the newer cylinder design, but what are they doing about the storage and also containment for filling?

These questions will be addressed before the new cylinder design is brought to market.

Was the transfill at Virginia Beach with a static air source or another firefighters air source?

My understanding is that it was from another firefighter who was with the firefighter who ran out of air.

Have the weight reduction numbers been validated?

I assume this question is referring to the new cylinder technology. The weights are based on working prototypes. Final weights will not be available until a final product is ready for complete certification testing.

We have a lot of confusion on the hydro dates on cylinders. Some say three years on fiberglass composite and five for aluminum. Others say five years on composite. What’s the standard?

All SCBA cylinders require periodic hydrostatic testing as required by 49 CFR 180.205. The frequency of the maintenance depends upon the cylinder material.


  • Steel cylinders should be tested every five years. They have an indefinite service life until they fail a hydro test.

  • Aluminum cylinders (not including hoop-wrapped) should be tested every five years. They have an indefinite service life until they fail a hydro test.

  • Hoop-wrapped cylinders should be tested every three years. Hoop-wrapped cylinders have a 15-year service life.

  • Fully wrapped fiberglass cylinders should be tested every three years. They have a 15 year service life.

  • Fully wrapped Kevlar cylinders should be tested every three years. They have a 15-year service life.

  • Fully wrapped carbon fiber cylinders should be tested every five years. They have a 15-year service life.
Source: http://www.labsafety.com/refinfo/ezfacts/ezf307.htm

The presenter emphasized communication systems such as what can be integrated into the SCBA face piece. I know the communication requirements got more specific in the 2007 standard and that most face pieces met the new requirements already. However, does the presenter feel voice amplification may become a part of the standard in the future and what does the presenter feel the benefits are and if they should be used only for officers?

The communication changes made in the 2007 edition of NFPA 1981 had little, if any, impact on actual communication performance. The change was mostly to the test method (a more consistent test method).

The changes that the technical committee wants to see are in actual performance (intelligibility) at various distances. The technical committee is careful not to mandate a method (such as amplification) to achieve performance. The goal is to prevent future development from being limited by a requirement in the standard.

As for who should have amplification, that determination should be made by each department following extensive testing. In Columbus, we have had voice amplification on all SCBA since 2004 and I am not aware of any problems using this method.

How do you handle an employee on the committee who you know has an axe to grind with a certain model or you know is trying to sway the decision towards a certain brand. Is this a common occurrence?

This is not a common occurrence; most everybody on the committee is pretty reasonable and open-minded. If it did occur, I imagine that the group format would set him or her straight. If it became a problem, I’m certain the NFPA management would have words with the hosting agency. If this did not correct the problem, the NFPA would likely not renew that individual’s appointment to the committee (an annual occurrence).

Are there guidelines on donating used SCBAs (we’ve upgraded)? Do we have to donate them ‘out of the U.S.,’ or are we able to donate to departments in the U.S. who may be able to use them?

In general, there are not prohibitions for donating serviceable SCBA that are still certified as compliant to one of the NFPA standards listed in National Fire Protection Association 1852: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), Section 4.4, and they meet applicable state requirements for SCBA (some states have more stringent requirements for what edition of the standard they must comply to). NFPA 1852, Section 4.7.1 covers how to retire SCBA that are taken out of service.

Does this presentation specify how to do an SCBA evaluation?

The SCBA selection process and evaluation of new SCBA is a highly personal and emotional process. I would not attempt to distil this process down to a few simple black-and-white steps that need to be taken. In addition, the brief duration of the Webcast does not allow time to cover everything that needs to be covered. I felt that our time was more wisely spent if I briefly covered some of the more important and pertinent considerations for the evaluation, and spent more time on other areas that can easily be overlooked in the actual selection.

David Bernzweig has been in the fire service for 19 years, the past 12 with the Columbus (OH) Division of Fire, where he is a Lieutenant/paramedic. He is the 2nd Vice President of the Columbus Firefighters Union and Chairs the Union Health & Safety Committee. David is a member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Respiratory Protection Equipment. He is a member of the FEMA US&R Ohio Task Force One, and is a fire and EMS instructor for the State of Ohio. He has degrees in Political Science and Economics from The Ohio State University.

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