Most know I focus greatly on SCBA and air management throughout the year in training for fire/rescue calls and in training for events. As an ambassador for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Firefighter Stair Climb and longtime competitor, getting close to my Scott Pak went hand in hand. Competing in on-air events really pushed me to know not only the limits of the equipment, but also my personal limitations and how far I could go. While there are a growing number of us that that take air management, training in gear and on-air, and firefighter fitness to a different level, the demographic of those who aren’t is astonishing. In most cases we literally take the SCBA and it’s value for granted.
Firefighters train and work in SCBA, they ride around in our trucks and even sit idly by in our stations when we aren’t on a call, but how well do you REALLY know and appreciate that device that’s riding with you? While firefighters were introduced to the equipment in order to pass initial certification, the amount of time spent on it is in many times marginal. Speed drills, blacked out drills, the pile of spaghetti drill where in the dark each firefighter must assemble their own pack and go on air, the ideas are endless, but most fall short of the real training.
How bad is the problem?
Training in many cases has shown us how to rapidly go through and prepare for the fire in a time limit, but fail on the other end of the time limit. How fast can you get in it is taught, how long you can stay in it and what to do on the other end of the gauge is where we as a fire service are still failing.
Remembering back almost two decades and the first classes I went through, little time was spent on the SCBA. If it went to crap the low-pressure hose could be tucked into your coat to buy you more time to get out. The bell meant it was time to leave, the cylinders were steel, and masks were shared, and if you lost your external PASS device key you were going to have a problem. Fast forward to today and there are still houses where the EOSTI lights, bells, buzzers, and the dummy lights on the dashboard are still utilized to tell people to exit. In trainings and many academies, I have seen and still hear of running low on air being a stopping point altogether. “Hey just go ahead and click off, it’s just fog”, or just sending people out for a cylinder change is the norm most everywhere.
If we are never getting to the EOSTI during training, our firefighters are never getting the opportunity to experience or know what happens next. Worse yet, if we are getting to the EOSTI bells and buzzers during training and telling members to just go off air, or never taking advantage of this training opportunity, they are putting bad practice into muscle memory.
While the modern SCBA really is a feature filled (often too many, but that’s another post) important piece of our PPE, it simply is not as sexy as live burns, extrication, forcible entry, or the countless other classes. Features, functions, and behavior of the modern SCBA or how it relates to our physiology in most cases are completely a moot point.
What’s the cure?
A paradigm shift is the cure in the fire service for this perpetual issue. I could tell you all about it, but if you want to hear it straight from an amazing resource in the fire service, pick up a copy of Air Management for the Fire Service. Literally a Bible for air management by Mike Gagliano, Casey Phillips, Phillip Jose, and Steve Bernocco, you will be hard pressed to find something better to make the change.
The cure is multi-faceted, it can start at the top, the bottom, but it really can start with YOU today. While yes, the long-term solution is better academies, improved training, guidelines/procedures on air management, buy in from leadership, and many other pieces, it really can start with just doing the right things.
Get to know your air pack, the Internet is full of resources from manufacturers that detail the functionality of your SCBA. Beyond there, get it off the rig and go over it top to bottom until you can’t get it wrong where and what each part does.
Do you know once the low-air alarm goes off, what to expect? Will your mask vibrate or the bell go off first, in a room full of noise will you be able to tell that its yours? If you waited for that alarm, how far into the structure are you and how much air will it take to get out? How many minutes before a low air alarm stops ringing and how many breaths before you reach the end? The questions pile up and the answers are something that most never seek or train for. Getting your answers when its calm is far better than trying to figure out when the heat is high, the visibility low, and your senses are being overwhelmed in the fire.
You don’t need a complex training center or a great amount of equipment to setup a drill. Everything you need is on your person or in the rig. If you don’t have the book on air management, YouTube and a quick Google search will unearth hundreds of ideas to go through the air in your cylinder and find out what its capable of. PPE, SCBA, a timer, a notepad to record what and when something happens are all you need.
Know how long that cylinder will last you, your air consumption rate (ACR) per minute, and know that if you are ever faced with that situation you are prepared to make it last. It’s the first of many steps that can be taken to begin the shift and push for more. Air is cheap, get in your SCBA and drill like your life depends on it, because you are literally carrying your expiration date on your back!