SCBA Management A Program That Works

SCBA Management A Program That Works


This Alaska fire department has developed an efficient, cost-effective air resources program that maintains in-house control on repair and maintenance…and safety.

THE ANCHORAGE Fire Department has a number of special units staffed by on-duty firefighters that provides technical or operational support for parts of the overall mission. Not the least significant of these is the air resources program.

There are three sections to this program:

  1. Air resources, which includes one mobile and three stationary air compressor/cascade banks.
  2. Air tank maintenance, which includes a program for inspecting the air tanks and valves, and hydrostatic testing (a contracted, off-premises service).

Certified maintenance check and repair services for the entire air pack.

Three fire stations are each equipped with a stationary air compressor and the mobile unit carried on the dive rescue van is stationed at our most centrally located station. Some full spare bottles are kept available at these locations. Each battalion chief vehicle carries 10 to 15 extra bottles in addition to one spare bottle for each air pack assigned for all apparatus.

A certified maintenance program for the entire department is carried on within a fire station. In conjunction with the required hydrostatic testing, the bottle maintenance program includes a detailed inspection of the exterior of the air bottles as well as a visual inspection of the interior. If necessary, steel bottles are tumbled to clean any surface rust from the interior.

Valves are checked to assure that they are leak-free and undamaged, and that the gauges are reading properly during the reassembly following the hydrostatic check. If any problems are detected by line firefighters during operational use of the bottles or refilling, they are forwarded to our maintenance center for immediate inspection and repair, as necessary.

The Anchorage Fire Department performs its own SCBA maintenance and repairs, using its own facilities. Its certified repair personnel maintain a tracking system (manual) and record keeping (computerized).

All photos by John Miller.

All bottles and valves, and any work done to them, are recorded on a computer program designed by one of our firefighters. There is a copy of the work order available for every repair and maintenance procedure done, and the computer inventory card for each bottle is automatically updated from the work order to show the most recent information about the bottle.

The department’s real pride is the certified air pack/mask maintenance repair program. Since 1976, Anchorage has standardized its SCBA equipment. The manufacturer provides field training classes to members and certifies repairmen to make all repairs within their own facilities. Some firefighters have been certified for Level III (complete repair and rebuild) maintenance procedures. All repairs are done inhouse.

With responsibility for 159 department air packs and 19 more from the Municipal Water & Wastewater Treatment Department, it is necessary to maintain absolute tracking and control of every air pack. Our inventory includes 401, ultra-light, and 4500 models. Each pack, by serial number, has an assigned location; that location identification (usually a vehicle I D. number ) is stenciled on the frame of the pack with 1 1/2-inch figures. This makes it very easy to sort out packs at a fire scene before each unit heads back to quarters. There also are spare packs designated as and marked with the word “loaner” stenciled on in red letters. These are assigned to the repair facility, and are used as in-service replacements for any packs that are out of service for repair.



ITiis system provides ready replacement packs for damaged units. In addition to the units carried on our supply/courier van, each battalion chief car carries a “loaner” pack and mask. Any air pack or mask taken outof-service, even in the middle of an emergency operation, can be replaced by one of these spare packs in a matter of minutes. A rubber ink pad stamp has been designated for use with two-by-four-inch wired tags, which are attached to the loaner packs. Tile tag requests a brief explanation of the problem with the broken unit being replaced; it also provides the shop the information necessary to keep all pack locations current.

Each pack has a corresponding magnetic-backed tape tag on a tracking board in the service room that enables the service personnel to keep an up-to-the-minute location on all of the units. The “magtapes” are colorcoded or customized for the type of pack (green for 4,500 psi units, black for 2,216 psi units, red for loaners).

The tracking board is a plan by itself. It is divided into twelve sections, representing the months of the year. The magtapes for the pack location/assignment are kept within the month block during which the pack is scheduled for annual maintenance. By so doing, the scheduled workload is visible at all times.

Loaner packs are sent out to replace the line company air packs while they are brought in for their annual inspection. After each pack is serviced, a colored stick-on dot is placed on the corresponding magtape to indicate it is current for the annual maintenance program. Within the shop room, all packs are tagged with two-bv-threeinch, colored, alligator-clip tags. A red tag indicates an out-of-service pack; a green tag indicates in-service (available for use), an orange tag indicates a pack that is in for an annual inspection; a yellow tag indicates a completed inspection and that the pack is being held until the rest of the packs from the same unit are finished. All packs from a company are gathered and returned together from annual maintenance. With the tag system, the status of every pack in the service room is obvious. Every effort is made to maintain the integrity of the system, a principal reason that it works so efficiently.

While packs are in the shop being worked on, they are kept in a planned order. The service area has a peg rack with six positions, six plastic containers, and a dry-erase board with six blocks, all with the numbers visible on them. If a technician is working on a pack, the frame is hanging on a numbered peg, the “loose” parts are kept in the corresponding numbered container, and the information about the unit and the work status on it are recorded in the corresponding numbered block.

There are preprinted prompting sheets for the most commonly used parts during annual air pack, air mask, or bottle valve repairs on which a simple hash mark indicates the number of parts used. Furthermore, all of the items required by the work order have prompting headers on the sheet. Following a repair, a technician need only take the prompting sheet into the office to enter all of the information into the computer.

Monthly schedules for each unit are maintained on a sectioned, magnetic board. Color coding is used for easier tracking.Air packs for each unit are kept together during maintenance and repair. Hangers and containers assure that assembly is repackaged as received.

Preprinted letters are used to accompany packs when they are sent out of the shop. One is written for “loaners” going out to replace regular packs being called in for annual maintenance; another is written for packs returning to the line from the repair shop. With this system, most paperwork is simple fill-in-the-blanks, and the format is standardized so that it is easily recognized by the line crews.

A file label carrying month initials JFMAMJJASOND) is attached to the regulator flow tester, which is tested monthly. Simply crossing off the appropriate letter indicates that the monthly test has been accomplished. This simplifies the process and prevents redundancy but promotes maintenance of the needed standard.

The Anchorage Fire Department computerized its operation in Decernber 1987. The master plan calls for a complete modem-linked interface system, but will take some time to implement totally. Each station has a personal computer that is unlinked to other stations or units. However, the department now has all records, work orders, inventory, and operations on computer within the station.

One of the firefighters has written a computer program which collects all of the necessary data in one place. More than that, it takes care of most of the technical bookkeeping for the department, including completely automatic inventory accounting, both financial and stock level; automatic updating of file cards for the air packs as work is done; ability to sort the pack or parts files by almost any single feature (date of repair, type of repair, technician’s initials, for example) and print a report; and the ability to recall any work order in seconds, and reprint it. It also has the ability to tally the man-hours expended; a cost list; the number of work orders created; the number of hydrostatic test (bottle inspection) procedures done; and the total value of parts expended—accurate to the most recent procedure that has been accomplished. The computer program is able to show the value of the parts inventory in stock, and the value of replacement parts to order so as to re-establish benchstock levels—at any given time with the push of a button. Individual air pack records, air bottle records, parts information, maintenance reports…all are available in seconds. The most remarkable feature of our computer program is that the entire program was designed, written, and made operational by a firefighter who was computer-illiterate before receiving the new computers.

As a result of these innovations, the Anchorage Fire Department has one of the finest, most up-to-date, most complete and safe air resources maintenance programs around. More than 16 months in operation, it has proven to be functional, consistent, and effective. It proves itself by having a very low return rate for repairs outside of the annual, planned maintenance.

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