Breathing Apparatus Course
Four sessions build confidence and provide practical training
The developing complexities of manufactured articles have produced a myriad of problems for the fire fighter. One of the most hazardous of these problems is breathing in a toxic atmosphere. The use of breathing apparatus has become a necessity for almost all interior fire fighting, whether conducted by paid personnel in a large city or by volunteers in a rural area.
Because of this, training in the use of breathing apparatus assumes an important role. Knowledge of the use of this equipment can result in a rescue, quick attack on the fire, or the saving of a fireman’s life. Company training officers should recognize the importance of breathing apparatus training and ensure that all probationary firemen receive instruction as soon as possible. In addition, continuing review and instruction on recently available equipment should be carried out for the more experienced personnel.
This article is not intended to teach the use of breathing apparatus, but rather to detail the areas, sequences, and methods which should be used to teach this subject. Recognizing the need in this area, the Fire Service Extension, University of Maryland, has developed, under the direction of Senior Instructor Joseph McDonagh, a 12-hour course in breathing apparatus. With slight modifications, it can be adopted by large or small departments, even if they have limited facilities.
LESSON 1 Introduction to Breathing Apparatus (3 Hours)
This class can be conducted almost anywhere in the station: classroom, meeting room, engine room, etc. The only equipment necessary is a chalk board. This introductory class is of extreme importance, and should not be bypassed in favor of going directly into wearing and using breathing apparatus. It will provide the student with the foundation for building the confidence necessary to use breathing apparatus. The items to be discussed during this session include:
- Why breathing apparatus is necessary Personal protection Faster rescue Faster initial attack
- How the human breathes Inspiration – expiration Chemical action within the body Controlled breathing
- Types of fire gases, their generation and how to protect against them
- How personal limitations, such as physical and mental condition, can affect the use of breathing apparatus.
- Types of breathing apparatus Self-contained (demand, oxygen-generating, etc.)
LESSON 2 Breathing Apparatus Familiarization (3 Hours)
This section can be conducted wherever there is enough room for the students to practice putting on breathing apparatus. As many students as possible should have their own equipment to practice with. When there is not enough available, sharing will be necessary. In addition, the equipment should actually function during this session. The economic factors of air replenishment or canister replacement are far outweighed by the advantage of having a firemen who has experienced actual breathing conditions.
The equipment for this class includes the breathing apparatus used by your department, three lengths of 1 1/2-inch hose and some masking tape. If the department uses more than one type or brand of equipment, demonstrate all of them for the students. Make sure they are familiar with the differences in the various brands.
1. The parts of the equipment and how they operate
All parts of the apparatus must be reviewed, with their name and function being carefully explained. Consult the equipment manufacturer for brochures and instruction manuals, which provide cutaway views and operating instructions.
2. Simulated practice in using the equipment
This practice should be as complete as possible, with full turnout gear on. Everything from putting the apparatus on to putting it away should be covered. In addition, changing of bottles, changing of filters, destruction of canisters, and cleaning the face should be included.
3. Maintenance of breathing apparatus
The explanation at this point should cover only that part of the maintenance that can be accomplished in the fire-house. Also included in this portion should be a discussion of the precautions necessary in using and handling the equipment, especially in the areas of hand-tightening valves, bleeding pressure off the regulator, disconnecting the high-pressure air line, operation of the warning device, and knocking or dropping the regulator.
4. Actual practice in using the equipment
For initial practice in wearing breathing apparatus, 150 feet of 1 1/2-inch hose should be stretched out in the engine room. Have the line go through doorways, under tables, and around furniture. Have the student in full turnout gear, with breathing apparatus on and operating, and cover the lens of the facepiece with tape. Lead him to the start of the course and have him follow the line.
LESSON 3 Buliding Confidence in Breathing Apparatus (3 Hours)
This session should be conducted in a building with which the students are unfamiliar. If a deserted building can be used, set up several rooms with old furniture and utility fixtures (gas meters, electrical panels and boxes, etc.). Then, only smoke should be introduced. Have the students enter the building and perform a task, such as shutting off the gas meter or turning off the main electrical panel.
If no building can be found, use the basement or storage area of the fire station. Mount an old gas meter and electrical panel on pieces of plywood and hang them in the basement. Simulate smoke by having the basement in total darkness. Have the student enter and perform a task.
In addition, during this session, the student should be exposed to some relatively hazardous obstacles. With full gear on, have the student do things such as go up and down stairs, in and out windows onto a gentle sloping roof, climb ladders and enter a scuttle hold to an attic.
LESSON 4 Search and Rescue (3 Hours)
This session should be conducted in the same location as Lesson 3. The skill to be learned and practiced here is the most important job on the fireground. Search patterns, procedures and rescue techniques should be explained in detail. Then, during the drill, the procedures are put to use. A dummy made from pillow cases stuffed with rags will add realism to the drill. A number of search patterns and procedures have been developed and published. Locate the one that suits your particular department, standardize it to your department operating procedures, and put it in practice.
The use of breathing apparatus is an important skill. Don’t let your firemen be lulled into false security because they haven’t needed the equipment recently. Keep up the training on a continuing basis and then when the need arises, your men will be able to handle the situation.