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FDNY first began looking towards respiratory protection in the early 1900s. These tests culminated with the adoption of the Dräger smoke helmet. This also led to the creation of the Nation’s first heavy rescue company in 1915, Rescue 1. Members of this new unit were trained in the use of the new masks as well as other specialized equipment. 

Special ops companies in FDNY now have numerous types of respiratory protection and accessories. These include: self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), various air-purifying respirators (APRs), powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR), self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), suppled air using various breathing apparatus, and rebreathers.

Some accessories that are compatible with some of this respiratory protection include: various communication systems and accessories including both radio and hardwire; and a FAST PAK. The FAST PAK is a portable air supply. It is intended as an emergency air source for someone wearing an SCBA that is either low on or out of air who cannot be immediately removed to a safe atmosphere. This is accomplished by either adding air directly to the cylinder of the person in question, or attaching a supplied air source to their SCBA through various connections. 

Industry also utilizes a large variety of respiratory protection. In day to day operations these can take the form of an APR worn along with helmet and safety glasses on the factory floor, or a breathing apparatus with supplied air and an escape bottle worn to work in a confined space.

Industrial emergency response teams also have the potential to utilize the full gamut of respiratory protection. This gamut can include: an APR worn during a collapse rescue; SCBA employed during haz-mat incidents, confined space rescues or fires; or a supplied air system used during a confined space rescue of longer duration. 

The following training recommendations will focus on utilizing the SCBA (although a good training topic is the criteria for choosing the appropriate respiratory protection).

Initial training should entail the inspection and maintenance of the SCBA including how to change the cylinder and batteries. I would also include how to correctly size a facepiece in this initial training as well as how to turn on and shut down the system. Next would be different methods of donning and doffing the SCBA.

Three common methods are:

  1. The over the head method. In this method you hold the SCBA in front of you by the shoulder straps with the cylinder towards your body. Next grasp the cylinder with both hands and raise it over your head while working your arms through the loops of the shoulder straps and let the SCBA slide down your back. Next fasten and adjust the straps. While not taught by FDNY I like this method in situations that I feel are too confined to use the coat method. 
  2. The coat method. In this method you hold the SCBA in front of you by the shoulder straps with the cylinder towards your body. Look over your left shoulder to confirm the area is clear. Next swing the SCBA over left shoulder, allowing arms to pass through the shoulder strap loops (similar to donning a coat). Next fasten and adjust the straps. 
  3. Donning a SCBA mounted in a seat mount. Pass arms through the respective shoulder straps and snug up shoulder straps. Next fasten and adjust the straps after leaving apparatus. 

This would be followed by the appropriate procedure for donning the facepiece. At what point the cylinder is turned on is a matter of your SOPs. 

Next would be taught the appropriate communication techniques including how to activate any emergency alerts.  I will not get into specifics due to different facepiece configurations, accessories and numerous types of communication equipment.

Emergency Procedures

The first four emergency procedures involve the potential difficulties in maneuvering while wearing an SCBA.

The Quick Release Escape

This technique is used to free your mask from entanglement. First fully extend both shoulder straps. Next grasp the left shoulder strap with your left hand and remove the right arm from the right shoulder strap and remove the waist belt. At this point you should be able to turn towards the left and face the SCBA while your left hand maintains control of the shoulder strap. Find and disengage from the entanglement, and re-don the SCBA. 

The Low Profile Maneuver

This technique is used when you have to go under something or perhaps through something such as a hatchway.  As in the quick release escape, fully extend both shoulder straps. Next grasp the left shoulder strap with your left hand and remove the right arm from the right shoulder strap and remove the waist belt. Next allow the SCBA to swing over your left shoulder to the front of your body. Place the SCBA cylinder side down and push ahead of you as you maneuver under the obstacle. After passing the obstacle, re-don the SCBA. 

The Reduced Profile Maneuver

This technique is used when you have to pass through a narrow area (usually standing).  In this technique fully extend the right shoulder strap and remove the right arm from the right shoulder strap and grasp your waist belt with the right hand. Next the left hand grasps the cylinder at the rubber bumper and the SCBA is twisted to the left side of your body. Pass through the narrow area leading with the right side of your body and when clear re-don the SCBA. 

The Swim Maneuver

This technique is also used when you have to pass through a narrow opening (used standing or crawling). In this technique place your right knee, right shoulder, and head through the opening. After they are through bring your left arm over left shoulder and through the opening in a swimming motion. 

The next techniques are intended for when the structural integrity of your facepiece is compromised. This can be either from impact or melting. If any of these methods are used it means that your SCBA is no longer functioning properly and you will have to leave to a safe area. 

In the first case the crack or hole in the facepiece is minor and you place your hand over it to control the leak. If this does not sufficiently control the leak continue to cover the damage and press the face pieces manual shut off switch after each breath to limit air loss. With a positive pressure SCBA if the damaged area is too large you may not be able to create enough suction to release the regulator shut-off after shutting it down. In this case use the purge valve to turn the air on and off for each breath. 

Another valid technique that is utilized to conserve air is skip breathing. The basic premise of this technique is that the air around us (and in our cylinders) that we inhale contains approximately 21 percent O2 and the air we exhale contains approximately 16 percent O2.

This means that we are wasting more than 3X the O2 that we are using. Skip breathing helps us to waste less. A basic description of the technique (I have read several variants) is to take a normal breath in and hold it until you feel inclined to exhale and then instead of exhaling take another breath in. This is followed by a slow breath out. I would only use this technique under mild exertion such as walking while metering in a Level A, or at rest such as if I was trapped and waiting for assistance. 

SOPs and Air Supply

It is important to have and train on clear SOPs. A particularly important SOP is to establish at what amount of air pressure an emergency responder is to leave the area. Take into account the type of structure. A 20’ X 30’ storage area will be easier to leave than an operation taking place several floors below grade.

Another item to take into consideration is what size air cylinder you will require. In order for the SOP of leaving the structure at a specific air pressure to work members must be trained to monitor their air. This is initially done by checking the air gauge on the cylinder. After the cylinder is turned on it can be monitored via a remote gauge and a heads up display inside the facepiece and finally by a low air alarm. 

At this point it is time to conduct drills where the member can actually bring all this training together. One of the skills that I like to work on is breath control. The military and law enforcement communities have been advocates of this for quite some time. If you are in a stressful situation and notice that your breathing is becoming shallow and rapid; take a deep breath, slow your breathing and reassess your situation.

This is even more important for us as we are operating on a finite supply of air and rapid breathing will deplete your supply sooner. Another situation to use breath control is when you want to hear more clearly. Breathing with an SCBA can drown out a lot of what you hear. Members practice this while conducting a simulated search for a missing member. To add more stress and to come closer to simulating a real world operating environment we have inserts that we add into the face pieces.

Some are opaque limiting site but showing light clearly, others almost completely black out all light. Now is also the time to add simulated emergencies to the drill. When we practice with supplied air we regularly turn off the rescuer’s air supply to get them used to switching to back up air. 

After gaining basic proficiency the goal of all these drills is not just to learn the skill being practiced but to become so comfortable with operating in an SCBA that it is not even a thought and you can focus on the task at hand.                                                               

James Kiesling is the Captain of Squad 1 of the Fire Department, City of New York’s Special Operations Command.  He holds as AOS in fire protection technology from Corning Community College, a BS in fire and emergency services from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an MA in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School.