Air Management Drill


We AND OTHER SEATTLE (WA) Fire Department members developed the following drill to integrate key pieces of air management, SCBA training, fireground communications, and Maydays with newer policy changes (especially in air management), providing practice opportunities for the difficult challenges associated with personal or team distress.

Although some of the drill components reflect Seattle Fire Department policy and procedures, you can easily modify the drill to conform to your department’s requirements. The training module is comprehensive in nature. You can conduct it in an hour or expand it to include any number of operational components the training officer deems necessary.

Our drill begins with a simple, 60-second timed SCBA donning evolution. Depending on the time allotted, this can also include instruction on the specifics of the unit, as well as proper maintenance and troubleshooting. Of critical importance is the assurance that each team member can don his SCBA in an efficient and safe manner. Proper SCBA deployment should include full protective gear, and the members should practice as if they are about to make entry into an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmosphere.

Photo 1. After successfully completing the timed drill, go through a thorough R.E.A.D.Y. check (or buddy check). The R.E.A.D.Y. check (see “R.E.A.D.Y. Checks and the Rule of Air Management,” Fire Engineering, June 2005) is a comprehensive, easy-to-remember model that covers all the key elements necessary for entry into hazardous atmospheres. Each team member confirms the following:

(1) Firefighters perform a timed mask drill. (Photos by authors.)

R – Radio is on, turned to the correct channel; each member knows to whom he is reporting (Division 1, Jameson Command, etc.).

E – Equipment is appropriate for the assigned duties.

A – Air for each member is checked prior to entry.

D – Duties are known by each member.

Y – Yes! If the answer to all of the above is affirmative, the team is ready to enter the scene.

Photo 2. Each member will verify that his partner is ready to enter the hazardous atmosphere. Each team will then go to a remote part of the drilling area and be prepared to conduct the rest of the drill.

(2) Crew members conduct a R.E.A.D.Y. check prior to entering a house fire.



Each member should issue a Mayday report over the radio and get a response before proceeding. The Mayday reports can be from a preprinted list, or the members can do their own if they are comfortable doing so. Having your firefighters actually report the Mayday will increase their comfort level in doing so and provides a mental image they may be able to call on should they ever get in a bad situation. This is critical to the drill and should not be overlooked, as it also flows naturally into the next component.

Of equal importance to the Mayday transmission is ensuring that the emergency message was accurately received. At this point in the drill, you can provide feedback to the sender as to the clarity and accuracy of the message. Some factors that cause difficulty in understanding radio transmissions include the following:

1. Volume—the sender speaks too loudly or not loudly enough; the radio volume is on an inappropriate setting.
2. Speed—the person speaks too rapidly.
3. Quality—the voice is deep or soft and hard to understand.
4. Feedback—the radios are too close to each other, causing feedback that distorts the message.
5. Traffic—the sender is trying to transmit amid all the other radio traffic, which can prevent the message from getting out.
6. Failure—the radio does not work properly or has a dead battery.
7. Inattention—the operator of the receiving radio is distracted or not paying proper attention and misses the message.

Two key things need to occur at this point in the drill. Each member must get an idea of how his voice is best understood when transmitting a radio message. Also critical is the determination of how best to transmit with and without a voice amplifier (if your department uses one). There is a big difference in where to place your microphone when an amplifier is present. Conversely, when the voice amplifier battery goes dead and you have no amplifier, microphone placement must change. When finishing this portion of the drill, remind the members that they must ensure their message was acknowledged and understood. It does no good to transmit a textbook emergency message that doesn’t make it to someone who can help. We recommend that the individual receiving the Mayday vary the response. Many options are available, but here are a few:

1. Don’t respond. The member sending the Mayday should try again, recognizing the message was not received/responded to.
2. Respond with faulty information. The receiving member acknowledges the Mayday but replies with information that is different, such as location or identity.
3. Respond correctly.
4. Respond correctly and ask for additional information, such as air level or injury update.
5. Ask for a repeat of the Mayday.

An additional benefit of this drill segment is the practicing of Maydays. There is the obvious technical benefit of practicing the message in accordance with what works best and in a format that conforms to your department’s procedures. Furthermore, your firefighters receive the added psychological benefit of doing their first Mayday in a safe situation, as opposed to a deadly one. The more comfortable they become with reporting a Mayday, the more likely they will be to accomplish a successful Mayday report when all hell has broken loose and they are in trouble.

Now that you’ve practiced getting help for yourself or the person in trouble, the focus shifts to actions the individual can take until help arrives. The first priority is to ensure each firefighter can assist in delivering the air to a firefighter in need. In the Seattle Fire Department, the primary means of giving air to a downed firefighter is through the transfill procedure. Although other options may be used, such as with a rescue air kit, each firefighter can transfill another firefighter using the three-foot transfill hose on the SCBAs. If your alarm is not ringing and you have sufficient air to transfill air to a receiver (greater than 2,000 psig for high-pressure air masks), the procedure is accomplished in the following manner:

a. Silence the downed firefighter’s PASS device, if it is sounding.
b. Give a Mayday radio report, and activate the downed firefighter’s emergency button. Notify the dispatcher in advance if you are going to activate the emergency button, since this is only a drill.
c. Make sure the downed firefighter’s bottle is open.
d. Check the downed firefighter’s face piece for proper fit.
e. Ensure that the downed firefighter’s bypass valve is closed.
f. Begin the transfill procedure by removing the three-foot emergency transfill hose from the downed firefighter’s pouch.
g. First, connect the transfill hose to the downed firefighter’s quick-fill fitting. Then connect the transfill hose to your quick-fill fitting. After approximately 30 to 60 seconds, pressure between the SCBA cylinders will be equal.
h. Once the transfill process is complete, remove the transfill hose from your quick-fill fitting, but leave the hose connected to the downed firefighter’s fitting.
i. Connect the downed firefighter’s regulator to his face piece.
j. Instruct the firefighter to “breathe” or open the bypass valve to begin air flow.
k. Give an updated radio report.
l. Return to fresh air immediately, or protect in place.

Each team member should accomplish the transfill procedure while in full protective gear (including gloves). We also recommend that you practice in limited-and zero-visibility situations.

While drilling, emphasize that conditions preventing firefighters from self-extricating are usually extreme; they may be performing these operations in extremely high heat, thick smoke, with a trapped or injured partner, and in situations that are truly life and death.

Departments that do not have the transfill option can insert their buddy breathing methods or whatever contingency they practice for such events. There is also room to expand the drill to include rapid intervention team (RIT) operations, as time allows.

Finally, this drill is an excellent time to go over your department’s air management policy, clarify students’ questions, and debunk the common myths that always circulate regarding a new policy.

The Seattle Fire Department is on the cutting edge of air management and has adopted a policy that is reasonable and effective in ensuring safe operations for its members. Here are the basics for the new air management policy for the Seattle Fire Department:

1. Follow the Rule of Air Management.

  • Know how much air you have in your SCBA before you go in, and manage that amount so that you leave the hazardous environment before your SCBA low-air alarm activates.
2. Mandatory progress/air report at 50 percent of bottle for teams (CARA is a good acronym, though not required).

  • C – Conditions, including smoke and heat: what you’ve got.
  • A – Actions: what you’re doing.
  • R – Resources: what you need.
  • A – Air: your air status.
3. Mandatory progress/air report if your low-air alarm activates while you’re still in the hazard area.

  • Report your status and that your low-air alarm has activated.
  • Report that you are exiting the building and from where (i.e., front door, second-floor window/ladder).
4. If you leave the hazardous atmosphere before your low-air alarm activates, your crew can change bottles and use one additional 45-minute bottle before going to rehab.
5. If your low-air alarm activates inside the hazardous environment, you will have eliminated your crew’s ability to stay within the two appropriate work cycles and will have to go to rehab after only one bottle.

The policy’s strength is that it allows the teams to continue aggressive firefighting while maintaining an awareness of their air status. An air reading of 50 percent notifies the incident commander that the team is close to needing a replacement and one should be ordered from staging to be ready. How much better is that than the current practice of waiting until a unit comes bailing out with bells ringing and a scramble ensues to replace them? Also note that each member, with 45-minute bottles, gets an additional minute and a half of work time in addition to the full amount of air they already had with the 30-minute bottles. And that does require the use of the last 25 percent, which is the emergency reserve. This air should be reserved for an emergency that directly impacts the member or the crew. Even the best-trained RIT needs time to find you with the resources you desperately need (photo 3).

(3) Firefighters searching in a collapse. It is imperative that firefighters maintain their emergency reserve so rescuers will have time to find them when things go wrong.

Emphasize good progress reports during your drill. The CARA acronym is one idea; you can use whatever works in your department. Basically, your firefighters have got to be able to tell you what they’ve got, what they’re doing, what they need, and their air status (when appropriate). If you can get them skilled in doing this in a fast, efficient, and understandable way, your operations will go dramatically smoother.

The final element that is useful to cover when going over your department’s air management policy is to answer the questions and debunk the common myths. A few common myths about our air management policy include the following:

Myth: You must leave when your bottle is at 50 percent.

Fact: You are required to leave the hazard area before your bell rings. The percent at which you leave to accomplish this will vary according to conditions and your depth inside the hazard area.

Myth: If your low-air alarm activates inside the hazard area, you have to call a Mayday.

Fact: You call a Mayday only if you are unable to get out. The only requirement if your bell rings in the hazard area is to make an appropriate radio report and exit immediately.

Myth:You will receive charges (discipline) if your bell rings in the hazard area.

Fact: If your low-air alarm activates inside the hazard area, you must make an appropriate radio report to verify that your bell does not indicate an emergency and go to rehab. There is no discipline associated with this.

Myth: The policy prevents you from being aggressive and completing your assignment.

Fact:With the new 45-minute cylinders, you get the full time you’ve always had with the 30s plus an additional 1½ minutes. Plus, you get your 25 percent reserve saved for true emergencies. Because of the more efficient use of teamwork and enhanced situational awareness, most firefighters find they accomplish as much or more work without sacrificing their emergency reserve.

Myth: The policy is forcing us to work longer in the hazard area with the new 45-minute bottles.

Fact:Nothing has changed with the new 45-minute bottles, provided you are following the policy and keeping your 25 percent reserve as a reserve. We still work through the equivalent of two 30-minute bottles if the policy is followed.

The drill can take an hour or be part of a great day of training that covers multiple sessions. You can include alarm center personnel in the drill, giving them practice on how to handle Maydays from that end.

Lieutenant STEVE BERNOCCO, Captain MIKE GAGLIANO, Captain CASEY PHILLIPS, and Battalion Chief PHIL JOSE are veteran officers of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department. They write and speak nationally on air management and firefighter health and safety. They are the authors of Air Management for the Fire Service (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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