'To many firefighters, ‘air management’ still means waiting for the low-air vibration alert or alarm to sound, signaling it’s time to leave the building. This occurs when three-fourths of the air supply has been consumed. Many consider that such a procedure is acceptable during a routine room-and-contents fire in a small building. However, take a look at how many firefighters have ‘run out of air’ in residential fires and lost their lives! In larger structures, or where there are large numbers of firefighters operating, the issue of interior accountability and ‘air management’ is critical. Where SCBA operations are extended to periods longer than thirty minutes and relief crews are required, a greater element of SCBA control is called for.

During the tragic Charleston SC Sofa Superstore furniture warehouse fire in 2007 where nine firefighters lost their lives as the fire suddenly escalated, a firefighter recounted how several firefighters came running past him in the blinding smoke screaming their cylinder air supplies had almost run out and that they were unable to find the exit. He tried to calm them but they were in a state of panic as all of their low-air alarms were actuating. The firefighter knew the way out and escaped, but tragically all the others died as their cylinders emptied, one by one.

As a rule of thumb, firefighters undertaking hose-lays up a stairway and completing a search pattern in a training situation, will reduce the air supply of 30-minute cylinders to around 20 minutes (to empty) and 45-minutes cylinders will be reduced to about 30 minutes (empty). Now by using up 75% of cylinder contents, leaving a 25% time to allow exit, means that 30-minute cylinders may only allow five or six minutes to exit and 45-minute cylinders will allow seven or eight minutes (air reserve to empty).

The 2007 version of NFPA 1404 covers this area of firefighter safety –

· 1. Exit before you use your reserve air
· 2. The alarm indicates use of reserve air
· 3. Alarm activation is an ‘immediate’ action item

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Comment by EuroFirefighter on April 4, 2008 at 5:14pm
A 45 minute cylinder will give you an additional ten minutes (approx) working duration over the 30 minute cylinder under moderate to hard working conditions. The most important thing is to have enough air to get there; stay there; and get out with your reserve air still intact. Maybe you might look at 45 min cylinders for front-line use and 60 min cylinders on the RIT/Ladders/Rescue?
Comment by Captain 46 on April 3, 2008 at 10:46pm
We use 60 minute cylinders now and they are 1998 and older so we are hoping a grant will help us update to standards. I am really looking for some serious feedback about 45 minute bottles and if that's really enough for interior firefighting. 30 minute bottles shouldn't even be allowed as far as I'm concerned for interior firefighting, but the 45 minute bottles are very interesting. Much lighter and less bulky than 60 minute bottles, BUT, are they enough air? I know, I know everyone is different but can you really get enough working time out of a 45 minute......
Comment by Joe Stoltz on March 30, 2008 at 10:39pm
On the county haz-mat team, the entry personnel are allowed no more than 20 miinutes of working time on one hour bottles. This is partly because it can take some time to go through decon before being able to doff the SCBA, and mostly due to the extra effore required to waddle around in Level A suits.

I also think it would be a good idea for the interior sector officer to keep track of how many minutes the attack team has been inside. Pull them out after 15 minutes of air time, and have someone else ready to go in.

Another comment, the use of the buddy system has to be enforced. If your team has 45 minute bottles and Joe's low air alarm rings after 15 minutes, the entire team exits.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on March 30, 2008 at 12:48pm
And if some of you are still using non-integrated PASS devices AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE; make sure that they are turned ON!
Better yet; get on board with SCBAs with integrated PASS, buddy breathing and voice amplification. That way, when you run low, when you scream in a fit of panic, you will be heard and someone can come hook up to you to get you out.
I am amazed in today's sophisticated fire fighting world that we are still struggling with breathing air issues. I mean, they have only been around since 1918. They became more mainstream after WW II, but I mean, it part of your basic PPE for crying out loud.
If you haven't strapped one on, timed your air to alarm while exerting some effort, then you might be headed for trouble. A vigorous workout while consuming air should replicate the physical demand and adrenaline that could increase your consumption. Believe it or not, you can "teach" yourself to breathe and reduce your air consumption.
Breathe new life into your SCBA program.

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