Throw Back to Basics: SCBA Confidence

By Brian Zaitz

We all know the importance of the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); it is our lifeline inside a burning structure. Other than our gear, it is the one tool we use on every fire. For this reason, we must be extra comfortable and confident with its operation. Too often, we take for granted its operation and functionality, and rarely do we focus training solely on its use. Typically, SCBA training is incorporated into live fire evolutions, hose movement drills, or functional skill sets such as forcible entry or ventilation. All of these are great ways to improve our comfort and confidence, but sometimes we need to take the time to focus our attention on the SCBA.

Many might argue that they are already comfortable, that they check the SCBA out before each tour, that they put their hands on every facet of the device, and that they even inspect their mask for proper seal. Great! This is what should be done; this functional test and inspection is a necessary component to our daily operation and is a great augmentation to SCBA training.

In this training bulletin, the spotlight is obviously on the SCBA. This quick drill takes less than five minutes to conduct, but it pays countless dividends. The drill forces us to handle and manipulate every aspect of the SCBA while wearing fire gloves in a limited-visibility situation. It’s a great confidence booster if we ever find ourselves in trouble on the fireground.


The drill starts after an alarm. (Training after an alarm? Yes! Why not?) At this time, you should be wearing your gear and backing into the station, so why not take an extra five minutes and practice a drill that could save your life? Start with an SCBA that is alarm mode with all straps fastened and waist strap buckled.

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Have the firefighter don his SCBA mask and cover his mask with his hood. Next, have him silence the alarm with a gloved hand. After silencing, have the firefighter verbally report a Mayday for himself, after completion the firefighter can loosen the straps and don the SCBA. Finally, the firefighter attaches the regulator and takes a breath.

The drill is now complete. It took all of five minutes after an alarm where you already had your gear. So, take five minutes after your next tour to practice with your SCBA and gain confidence and competence in its operation.


Download this drill as a PDF HERE (192 KB)


Brian Zaitz is a 14-year student of the fire service, currently assigned as the captain/training officer with the Metro West (MO) Fire Protection District. Brian is an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC as well as instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy.  Brian holds several degrees, including an associates in paramedic technology, a bachelors in fire science management, and a masters in human resource development. Brian is currently and accredited chief training officer and student of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.


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