32 Fire Fighters Trained To Repair Breathing Units
Even with the emphasis we place on safety in the El Monte, Calif., Fire Department, a recent incident reminded us that some obvious areas for safety improvement are sometimes overlooked.
During a recent quarters drill when personnel were donning self-contained breathing apparatus, some men were checking over the equipment—masks, hose, regulators and tanks. One of the men took a regulator and blew into the air outlet. His breath passed through the regulator, which caused him to think there might be something wrong with the unit since exhaled air should pass out the mask exhaust valve and not through the regulator.
Since firemen will be firemen no matter how precise a piece of equipment is, several men proceeded to take this regulator apart. To their dismay, they found a small tear in the regulator diaphragm. The torn diaphragm was also dirty on the inside surface. This dirt indicated that the regulator had been used in a smoky (toxic) atmosphere and that some of the air inhaled came from the outside atmosphere after passing through the small tear in the diaphragm.
When the department tried to order a new diaphragm from our local service center, we found that service parts were to be sold only to personnel who were trained and certified in the field-servicing techniques for this type of breathing apparatus.
Undaunted by this circumstance we contacted our local breathing apparatus representative and he directed us to their new field instructor. Within a matter of three weeks, 32 of our personnel were trained and certified as field servicing technicians at no cost to the department.
Other problems discovered
During the six-hour classroom training session, almost every self-contained breathing unit serviced needed some minor repair—from a new diaphragm to new filter screens. Four regulators were sent to the service center for major work and pressure adjustments, which cannot be done in the field.
The major importance of this program was that we initiated it before a known injury occurred. To find a breathing apparatus that would not fully protect you against a toxic atmosphere because of a torn diaphragm and to find another that would not warn you of a low air supply in enough time to make good a quick egress from a structure are downright frightening occurrences.
Though we in the El Monte Fire Department pride ourselves on our safety consciousness and awareness, it is experiences such as these that make us forever realize that the striving for safer methods, procedures and practices should be a never-ending department policy.