SCBA USE AND SAFETY
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON…
THE UNITED STATES fire service will almost always agree on one thing—a mandatory positive-pressure, self-contained breathing apparatus policy for every firefighter engaged in a structural fire operation. But if you talk to field personnel, there are a few reservations that continually pop up. They can all be overcome with training and awareness (as can most problems).
Train with air—Although seemingly basic, this bears repeating. We should be training with full fire clothing and SCBA for most of our tactical sessions. But how many of us actually use the air in our protection system when training? At search, ventilation, ladder, and hose stretching classes, we usually find the firefighter with no facepiece or with it in standby position, or with the airhose disconnected from the regulator.
In our training maze on Long Island, we have not been able to continue training past phase one: getting firefighters to overcome the distressing physiological effects of being “encapsulated,” dependent on bottled air, and of actually hearing themselves breathe and hearing their SCBA’s regulator cycle. Ibis lesson has taken more than four years to learn—in a cool, clear environment. A little imagination, communication, coordination, and marketing can overcome the cost factor problem.
Visibility will be less with an SCBA facepiece than without it. This fact should finally be communicated to all firefighters. Expect it and, through training, operate in spite of it.
Panic—The chances of panic overtaking you increases manyfold while in SCBA equipment. You must “know” where you are and where your refuge is at all times. Wandering around inside a structure in your positive-pressure Nomex ball is fine until the proverbial substance hits the fan. The instant your physical surroundings “fool” you or you doubt yourself or your equipment, panic will crush in on you. You must always have a frame of reference (wall, lifeline, or hoseline) within the structure that you trust. You must also know your equipment intimately. The only way is to rehearse every eventuality and to practice with the regulator and facepiece charged.
You will always move slower while operating with SCBA protection. If you don’t practice with it donned, that is.
You will usually breathe faster— You must practice, just as w ith any sport activity, to maintain control of your respirations in a stressful situation. Connect to the air and work on your respiration rate as well as your tactical technique and discipline.
The “30-minute mask” is a myth— Records usually indicate a rate of 17 to 7 minutes depending on physiology, mental state, experience, and activity of the wearer. Don’t be surprised by the low air alarm. Expect it earlier than stated by the literature that came with the apparatus.
If you can’t see, crawl—Before use of SCBA, we all crawled. That’s where the air was! Today’s firefighters are walking upright, falling into openings, walking off roofs, and being caught in blast-furnace conditions because they abandoned the procedure of crawling. Just because our lungs feel good.
Is buddy-breathing good for both buddies? This can go ’round and ’round. I’d rather concentrate on removing an unconscious individual with my system intact than lose precious, lifesaving (for both of us) moments interrupting that system. Also, did you ever know an individual who was out of air and who would return the “sweet stuff” to you after one or two breaths?
Stick together like ducks—This can adequately describe interior firefighters performing interior firefighting. The SCBA seems to foster this type of behavior. It’s only through training that our discipline level can be raised to prevent this common phenomenon and have all interior firefighters perform their individual assignments without the “charm bracelet” concept.