The National Fire Protection Association’s 2013 standards affecting self-contained breathing apparatus have departments across the country deciding whether now is the time upgrade their respiratory protective equipment or to purchase new.
Considerations for both small and large departments were shared earlier this year at FDIC by Battalion Chief David Bernzweig of the Columbus, Ohio, Division of Fire. He is a fire and EMS instructor, battalion chief, paramedic, member of the executive board, trustee and the health and safety chairperson for IAFF Local 67, plus a member of the NFPA Technical Committee for Respiratory Protective Equipment and Occupational Safety and Health.
- OSHA 1910.134 is the federal regulation governing the use of respiratory protection. NIOSH 42 CFR pt. 84 is the federal regulation regarding the design and performance of respirator protective devices. Neither has changed much since 1995. Relevant NFPA standards are 1981, 1982, 1852, 1404, 1500 and 1989, all of which were updated in 2013 following the usual five-year schedule.
- Facepiece integrity was a major focus this year. In 2012, the NFPA issued a safety alert after research found that SCBA facepiece lenses could indeed undergo thermal degradation when exposed to intense heat.
- Among new testing procedures for a facepiece is a radiant heat panel test. New tests also involve more thermal loading.
- The low air alarm was increased from 25 to 35 percent of the remaining air in a cylinder.
- EBSS, or buddy breathing, is now allowed by both NIOSH and OSHA. But a lack of interoperability between manufacturers continues to be a problem.
- A new communications test was adopted. Electronic communication is not required, but when used, the nonamplified communication system must meet the requirements without electronic enhancement.
- The PASS alarm sound pattern has been universalized.
- Re-breathers are not certified by NFPA for fire departments.
- When deciding whether to upgrade or purchase, consider the cost, age and condition of equipment; the benefit of adding certain options; other manufacturers’ features; whether you’ll maintain or gain interoperability with other local departments; and the manufacturer’s customer service record or reputation.
- Bernzweig’s advice? “This is your opportunity to get something that’s very good for your department.” But a lot of people will have a relationship with a vendor. That’s OK, he said, but get a balance: Conduct field investigations of a potential new purchase by taking a cross-section of personnel to wear the equipment — not just one person or job description. The firefighters asked should be willing to fill out the appropriate forms, and members of the selection team should not participate.