Mayday Monday: Out-of-Air Emergencies

Out of air emergency

By Tony Carroll

In April 2013, a Baltimore County (MD) firefighter died of injuries he sustained while battling a house fire. During the firefight, Firefighter Gene Kirchner was found unresponsive with his face piece off. He was removed from the building and transported to the hospital. He succumbed to his injuries eight days later. The NIOSH report can be found here. Read a report from the Baltimore County Fire Department about this incident here.

It is not exactly clear what happened to Firefighter Kirchner while fighting the fire, but we do know he became separated from his partner and was found unconscious with his face piece off and with air in his cylinder. Investigators believe he may have experienced a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) emergency.

RELATED: SCBA Boot Camp: A Firefighter’s Survival SchoolThe Rule of Air Management Q & A

The importance of SCBA training has been well documented here at Mayday Mondays. The Baltimore County Fire Department thinks it is important enough to require this of its members:

In addition to the basic training, members must also train in out-of-air situations. This month’s firefighter survival drill/skill is to practice two possible solutions to out-of-air emergencies.

  1. Buddy breathing. Most modern SCBAs have added technology to buddy breath. Have members don full personal protective equipment with SCBA. Get a partner and practice making the buddy breathing connection. Raise the stakes by taking away vision and/or introducing empty cylinders.
  2. Filter breathing. If you run out of air while inside an IDLH atmosphere, one option is to filter breath through your protective hood. After disconnecting the mask-mounted regulator, pull the hood up and over the opening in the face piece.

Please get out and practice these skills. We don’t want the first time you experience an out-of-air emergency to be in an IDLH atmosphere.

Don’t forget to send in pictures of you and your crew performing the monthly firefighter survival drill/skill to See you next month.  

Tony Carroll is a battalion chief with the District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department.

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