The #AtoZChallenge is over, but I couldn’t just leave the challenge hanging without trying to make up the letters I missed. Unfortunately a bout with a bit of vertigo due to cerumen impaction, complicated by history of cholesteotoma, had me pretty much down and out for a couple days. Even once “back up”, I wasn’t running up to par for a few days and then there was all the dreaded “catch-up”… You know, all the stuff that didn’t get done while you were down & out that now needs to be done. Sadly the AtoZChallenge was pretty much at the bottom of that list (at least when it came to family). But enough on the excuses and complaining… On to (finishing up) the challenge.
S is for SCBA
There was a time, in the fire service, where firefighters didn’t have the benefit of having SCBAs at their disposal. There are stories of firefighters growing long beards and then putting the ends of said beards in their mouth and breathing through them at an attempt to filter out the smoke and other related particles in the air. The fire service has come along way since those days and firefighters no longer have to put themselves into those kinds of dangerous situations. The dangers today come, not from the lack of proper equipment ability but rather from the lack of proper training and the knowing of when to use them.
A SCBA typically has three main components: a high-pressure tank (2,216 to 4,500 psi), a pressure regulator, and an inhalation connection (mouthpiece, mouth mask or face mask), connected together and mounted to a carrying frame. A self-contained breathing apparatus may fall into two different categories. These are open circuit and closed circuit.
Out of everything that firefighters wear, the SCBA provides the highest level of protection.
The respiratory system is both the biggest system and the easiest to compromise. We cannot always see what is in the air but what you can’t see can still hurt you. One quick breath can make the difference between life and death.
- The first documented use of an SCBA came as early as 1818 in a city outside London England. While trying to extinguish a barn fire a farmer used a helmet from a old suit of armor and hooked up a pump and hose to it which supplied air so he could breath while fighting the fire inside.
- In 1825 there was the first attempt at a mask that would provide both heat protection and fresh air to firefighters.
- In 1920, filter masks took a big step forward when Johns Hopkins University and the University of California completed their research on a gas mask designed to be used in a carbon monoxide-filled atmosphere. Their efforts produced a catalyst called Hopcalite that did not absorb or remove the carbon monoxide, but rather oxidized (burned) it and formed the relatively harmless carbon dioxide. This was one of the most important benefits science had given firefighters to that time.
- Developed in 1942 and used well into the ’60s by fire departments was the popular Chemox, made by Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA). The design of the Chemox was quite simple, with the CO2 exhaled by the firefighter mixing with K2O2 in the canister, producing oxygen that filled two reservoirs that looked like lungs. Firefighters would inhale fresh oxygen from these lungs and the process would repeat. The downfall to these apparatus was that the amount of oxygen produced was not measurable and an approximate time limit of three-quarters of an hour had to be monitored closely because no oxygen level gauge was available.
- Scott introduced the AirPac in late 1945 after a year of field testing. This basic design was modified and improved as wartime invention gave way to space technology. NASA and its space program became a new testing ground that directly improved work on the fireground . The Scott Air-Pak II introduced the pressure/demand style regulator.
- In 1971 the NFPA made its first attempt at regulating breathing apparatus in the fire service. NFPA 19B, Standard for Respiratory Protective Equipment for Firefighters, was introduced in the spring of that year with the intent of guiding fire departments away from chemical breathers to demand-style SCBA.
- In 1976 Scott Health & Safety, formed in 1967 after a conglomerate of companies purchased Scott Aviation, developed the first high pressure (4,500 psi) SCBA in partnership with NASA.
A new style of SCBA was being developed in 2008. This new design would weigh only 8lbs compared to the current 30lbs. Whether or not anything has come of this development I do not know at this time. More can be read about the project Here
Now a days so much more is known about the need for using SCBA not just during the actual firefighting phase but during overhaul as well. Several years back IAFF put out this PSA (hosted by Randy Mantooth):
CO – The Silent Killer
Don’t over look the use of your SCBA.
Sources (and more information):
Join me on an A to Z Journey of firefighting tools throughout the month of April. I appreciate feedback. Please keep in mind that I am not (nor do I pretend to be) a firefighter or a member, either volunteer or paid, of the fire service. My purpose here is to pass on knowledge that I find in hopes to both bring awareness to the fire-service and to help those in the profession do their job safer and better.