Throw Back to Basics: SCBA Check

Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) air cylinder

By Brian Zaitz

The self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) provides us the opportunity to conduct interior operations, make aggressive tactical decisions, and save lives. Its functional success on the fireground is critical; with that said, why do so many firefighters take its operation for granted and assume it will work? In recruit school, we are taught to check our SCBA daily and make it part of our routine. For many, this never changes, however, as time goes on, some see it as an unnecessary check. They may assume the crew before them did a check and it’s good, or perhaps the “those things always work” mentality sets in.

Conducting the SCBA check starts with getting it out of the bracket–physically removing it from either the compartment or jumpseat and getting your hands on it. Make sure the SCBA is full; if it’s a 4,500 psi cylinder, that means 4,500, not 3,800 or 4,000. This is your air supply, and you will wish you had another 100 psi if you find yourself gummed on a job.

Next, check that the regulator pressure is the same as the bottle, since you will not be able to see your bottle while operating. This is your gauge as to your air supply; you need this to be accurate so you know when to stay and when to go.

Then look over the harness. Check that the straps are in good working order, that they are not torn or tattered, and that they are clean–yes clean! The cylinder should be tight in the harness with no sway. Make sure the electronics work; activate the PASS, and, if equipped, make sure it is sending a signal to the command box. Ensure the man-down function is working.  Check the heads up display for accuracy.

Finally look over your mask, make sure it is free of cracks in the lens, has a good seal, and the voice amp has a good battery (if equipped). Once complete, mark it appropriately and return it to the apparatus.

The SCBA check is one of the quickest and easiest checks of equipment we can conduct, and it should be conducted daily. If operating in a volunteer organization, make it part of the weekly apparatus check. Conducting an SCBA check both ensures its operational readiness as well as familiarity with the unit–a win-win for the crew.

Download this drill as a PDF HERE (1.1 MB).

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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