A drill designed by the El Paso (TX) Fire Department to help firefighters obtain maximal air-cylinder capacity from their SCBAs has been the impetus for improving our members’ skills, fitness levels, and health.

The drill consists of 14 fireground evolutions performed while wearing SCBA and turnouts. We modified the drill so that it could be conducted indoors at our main fire station, making it possible to hold it on a regular schedule regardless of the weather. File adapted version now is part of our ongoing SCBA training and has been required for all department members since 1986. Originally held once a year, the drill now is conducted several times a year and serves as a mechanism for assessing the physical condition of our firefighters.

The drill schedule is based on the department’s California Plan Work Schedule, and each of our 28 career firefighters performs it on the first onduty Monday in the cycle. This works out to approximately five drills per firefighter per year. Our 17 paid oncall firefighters perform the exercise twice a year.


Participants fill out an “SCBA Drill Form” prior to engaging in the drill. The date of the exercise and the participant’s name, age, weight, and other information are included on the form Blood pressure and pulse rates are taken and also are recorded. “Abnormal” or high blood pressure readings (a resting systolic reading of 160 mm Ug or higher and/or a diastolic reading of 90 mm Hg or higher) and pulse rates (a resting rate of 100 or more beats per minute) are reexamined after a 15-minute rest period. If they still are high, the firefighter is

referred to a physician for examination and treatment and is not allowed to return to duty without the physician’s written approval.

Participants must wear all protective clothing and equipment required at the fire scene prior to donning SCBA and must perform 15 foreground evolutions in a continuous sequence. The series takes approximately 20 minutes, which coincides with the generally accepted rule of thumb of 100 psi per minute air use. or 20 minutes expected use time for a 45cubic-foot cylinder.

SC BAs must be donned within 40 seconds. Starting time is not recorded until the facepiece is on and connected to the regulator, the cylinder valve is fully opened, the PASS device is armed, and the helmet and gloves are on Participants then perform as many of the listed evolutions as possible before their low-pressure alarm sounds, at which point participants must stop. The time is recorded, and the drill is scored as “not completed.”

The participant who finishes all 15 evolutions before the alarm sounds continues to walk as a cooling-down exercise until the alarm sounds. The time is recorded, and the “completed” score is recorded. Total minutes for completed and not completed drills are recorded.

After SCBA and protective clothing are removed, blood pressure and pulse rates are taken again and recorded. High readings are handled in the same manner described above. (Blood pressures and pulse rates taken immediately after participating in the drill usually are somewhat higher than those taken before the drill.)


Recording the drill results for each participant (number of drills attempted. number and percentage of drills completed, and individual and average drill times) allows us to compare performances within the current year and from one year to another. Drill results are posted on the training bulletin board at the end of each year so that firefighters can see how they rate among their peers. The drills have fostered a competitive atmosphere that motivates members to perform up to their potential and have provided some members with “bragging rights.”

Other benefits have been noted. The heightened awareness of the physical-fitness status of department members created by the drills has increased participation in the department’s voluntary exercise program. Monitoring blood pressures and pulse rates several times a year helps ensure that members’ health will be safeguarded. since they see a doctor for prompt treatment when high readings are noted.

Adopting this drill program, or a variation of it adapted to your department’s needs, can be especially beneficial for maintaining skills and standards if your department usually does not respond to many fires wearing SCBA during the course of a year.

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