Training Days: SCBA Swap

Part Six

Article and photo by Tom Kiurski

Coming up with training ideas can sometimes challenge a fire department’s training coordinator. Often, we feel that we need to also focus on advanced training, not just the basics. As Tom Brennan put it with his eloquent New York accent, “The basics are where it is at.”

Recently, my training counterpart in a neighboring city and I decided to do an “SCBA swap.” He gave me one of his department’s SCBA units in exchange for one of ours; we would switch back the following week. We would familiarize ourselves with each others’ SCBA, since our departments often work together at incidents on the border and at mutual aid calls.

We can we learn plenty by looking at another department’s SCBA. How about bottle compatibility between the units? Which departments can fill bottles on scene, and how many can their system fill? What type of PASS device they have? How do you activate/deactivate it? Where is it mounted? Does it have to be turned on manually or does it charge automatically?

Find out how they would help their partners if they ran low on air. See how easy it is to operate a “buddy breather” system, if applicable. Is their buddy breather compatible with yours?


(1) One firefighter inspects the RIT fittings while another checks the SCBA fitting. Click to enlarge

Find out what features their SCBA have that on yours don’t. Does it have an attached escape device? How easy is the SCBA to take off in a low-profile maneuver? How much does their unit weigh in comparison to yours? What features of theirs do you prefer over yours, and vice-versa?


(2) The ISI fitting and the Draeger fitting don’t play well together. Click to enlarge


(3) A close up view of the ISI and Draefer fittings. Click to enlarge

How quickly can you don the unit? How many straps does fully donning the unit involve? Can it be donned more quickly than your SCBA?

How do you stop the flow of air to the mask when you want to “take five?” What does the low-air alarm sound like? How many movements does it take to tighten the mask to your face? How do you check for a good seal on the mask? What points would probably prove problematic as “catch points” in an interior operation? How easily can you loosen shoulder straps with gloved hands wearing full PPE?


(4) Training with neighboring departments eliminates surprises like this one during a real incident.. Click to enlarge

Now take out your rapid intervention team (RIT) bag. Does your RIT bag have the necessary fittings to allow you to perform that function in your neighboring city? If not, consider purchasing adapters to allow this. If possible, use the RIT bag of the city you are aiding. Compare RIT bags’ contents. What items do they have in their bags and what are they used for? Consider if you should add some items to your RIT bag, based on what you have learned.

Although this outline is not exhaustive, the drill is a great way to get some discussion going. This exercise requires very little preparation, other than fully knowing the SCBA prior to running the training session. If you are the facilitator of the training evolution, you must be able to answer some of the questions that may arise. You may need to do this again with other neighboring fire departments that are using different brands of SCBA to maximum the effectiveness at incidents that require multiple-agency response. You can add to this list and throw in some other twists in your next training session.

Tom Kiurski is training coordinator, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.


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