The Rule of Air Management Q & A

Captain Mike Gagliano and Lieutenant Steve Bernocco of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department respond to questions submitted by viewers of their recent Webcast, “The Rule of Air Management (ROAM).” Watch an archived version of this free presentation at

1. We received multiple questions about our book, “Air Management for the Fire Service.” In short, it contains more than 600 pages of comprehensive training on air management, including everything from hands-on drills to implementation of ideas for departments of any size or configuration. There are chapters on the overview and philosophy of air management, as well as straightforward descriptions of tactics. The book also has contributions from some of the leading thinkers in the fire service, including Alan Brunacini, Vincent Dunn, Dave Dodson, John Mittendorf, and many others.

Pennwell has agreed to give a 10 percent discount to folks who view the webcast. The code to use is IPG-AIR08. You can order the book online or give them a call at -800-752-9764 (toll free).

2. There were multiple questions about the new escape canisters. We see no problem with having these as a “last chance” option. That’s all they should be. If firefighters use them as part of their normal air-management strategy, they then become something we would not endorse. Things such as “cheaters” and filter breathing are shortcuts that are unnecessarily exposing firefighters to carcinogens and set a bad foundation for an air-management strategy. Adopt the ROAM. Do things the right way. Escape canisters are something that, if tested properly, could provide some much-needed air when everything else has failed.

3. Some instructors are advocating that firefighters get out at 50 percent of their remaining air or use the 1/3 method (1/3 in, 1/3 out, 1/3 reserve). These are well-intentioned solutions, but we feel they don’t provide the flexibility necessary for a wide array of situations you face on the fireground.

You will rarely need 50 percent of your bottle to exit a structure. The ROAM allows for those instances when you do need that much air by training you to monitor your air gauge and make an appropriate time-to-exit decision, no matter what the conditions. In larger structures, heavy debris, or intense conditions, you will obviously need to be more conservative and leave sooner. In your typical house fire, 50 percent is way too early and will waste a lot of valuable worktime. The same applies to the 1/3 rule, although that is much closer to being reasonable.

We have found that firefighters can be trained to make their time-to-exit decision based on an overriding principleof keeping the last 25 percent untouched. If the goal in regards to air management is to hit the door and have your bell ring a few steps outside, that gives you something easy with which to gauge your actions..

We don’t believe the firefighters should react like Pavlov’s dog to the ringing of a bell or some set formula that works on paper but not in the dynamic arena of the fireground. Use the ROAM; it works, and anyone can use it.

4. There were numerous questions about hydrogen cyanide. Please check out the Fire Engineering magazine article, “The Breath from Hell” (March 2006). Also, go the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition’s Web site for some outstanding training material–all free of charge:

5. The questions about the benefits of skip breathing were excellent. We detail some of the methods you can use in our book. The ones we describe in detail are:

  • Skip breathing. breathing with an extra breath

  • Count breathing

  • Reilly Emergency Breathing Technique (REBT)–also called “hum breathing”

They all work well depending on the situation and what you’ve practiced. The bottom line is that unless you have kept your emergency reserve intact, there isn’t going to be anything left for you to skip or count or hum. In our drills, firefighters who have kept their reserve intact have been able to routinely make it last, using these techniques, for 30 minutes or more. Some have gone over an hour. That would increase the chances of the RIT getting to you exponentially.

6. The Yob video is available from the Seattle (WA) Fire Department. It is a three-part video entitled “Firefighter Survival.” You can request this DVD by emailing SFDRCPT@Seattle.Gov. You can also download the video here:

The Tarver video may still be available by contacting the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department. We do not have permission to distribute it. The Abbt video is available from The Bravest Online:

7. We don’t believe that firefighters should be disciplined for working into their low-air alarms. Remember, you are trying to undo many of years of bad SCBA behavior; for most of us old dogs, that doesn’t happen overnight.

In Seattle, we have handled this situation in a more proactive manner. If you use your first bottle at a fire and get out before your alarm hits, you have worked an appropriate work cycle and can then change out and work a second cycle. Then you go to rehab.

If, however, you work into your low-air alarm, you have now exceeded an appropriate work cycle and are sent to rehab after one bottle. No one likes that.

You also must contend with firefighters all over the structure who are checking with you to see if you’re OK. The low-air alarms are infrequent on our fireground now, compared to just a few years ago when everyone’s bell went off inside.

8. The question regarding should we train, do overhaul, and so forth while on air is outstanding. And the answer across the board is YES!

Not breathing air during overhaul is insane. The gases are at some of their most toxic levels because of smoldering and incomplete combustion, and the cancerous particulates are being stirred up all around you. This one is not rocket science, gang. Do stupid stuff, and bad things are typically going to happen.

As far as training goes, we feel you should train as you’re going to play as much as possible. Use air, and practice the ROAM in all your drills. Make good air-management policy a staple of every drill you design. You will perform how you train or how you don’t train, as the case may be.

9. Regarding bottle size, we are advocates of the 45-minute bottle. We feel the 30-minute bottle is on the way out. We would encourage all departments making new purchases to switch. The 60 is fine (we use those for our RIT), but we feel the work cycle given by the 45 is the best option.

The 45 allows you to have all the air you are used to with the 30, while keeping that 25 percent intact.

Here’s the bottom line: No matter what size bottle you use,keep the last 25 percent for an emergency, and then train like crazy on making good time-to-exit decisions based on the equipment you have. That last 25 percent should not be used for normal operations and is intended for YOUR emergency.

10. In our high-rise operations, we typically set up staging two floors below the fire floor. That is where we also place our RIT/RIG teams.

11. We are big supporters of search lines or tethers. They are not the panacea that some indicate: In real fires, they can be a tangled mess, burn through, and provide an impediment for other crews. They were not used in the Yob incident. Like every tool, they are invaluable if you’ve trained with them and know their benefits and limitations. Having a line that leads you to safety is a great idea if you work it right.

No line is going to be of use if you are breathing superheated air or toxic smoke. Make sure that in whatever you do that you have your emergency reserve intact when the worst day of your life occurs.

12. There were multiple questions about new innovations to SCBAs such head’s-up displays, buddy-breathing attachments, and alarms that signal various levels of air consumption. Here are some thoughts:

Head’s-up displays are great as long as you know what you’re getting. The little lights that flash typically indicate a range of air (like 75 to 50 percent), and that gap is mighty large when you are talking about your lifeblood. We suggest you make a checking of your air gauge the first priority for knowing what your air level is. That’s what the ROAM advocate.

Buddy-breathing attachments are fine as long as they are last-resort options and not something you use as part of your standard air-management program. You should be focusing your efforts on ensuring you do not violate the emergency reserve; then buddy breathing will become something that will rarely, if ever, be used. If you’ve gotten to the point where you have to use buddy breathing, then something has gone seriously wrong, much like with the escape canisters.

We want an alarm-free fireground. A small buzzer or something that alerts you to being at 50 percent or something like that would be fine. Again, we don’t want to be Pavlov’s dog. We should be proactively checking our own air and not relying on a gizmo to do it for us. Technology typically fails firefighters at the worst time possible. Put your destiny in your own hands, and train to take care of yourself.

13. A good question came in about why the crews in the Yob situation did not remove him from the fire. It goes back to the “false alarm mentality” that exists when you hear low-air alarms going off all over the fireground. No one pays any attention to them. That is what occurred here.

Thanks to everyone who watched the webcast. Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions. You can get our email information at

The Seattle Guys

Webcast sponsored by Sperian Fire

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