The PASS alarm was designed as a way to alert other firefighters that someone needs help. It is essentially a distress call, or like a 911 call being made.
When they were first put into service, they required a firefighter had to manually turn it on to activate to the PASS device. The results were sporadic as some firefighters would turn it on, and others would not. Eventually PASS devices became automatic and integrated with the SCBA.
Every SCBA purchased today will have a redundant PASS alarm. But there are some older SCBA's still in use that will not have this option and must be manually activated.
The biggest problem with the PASS alarm are false activations. Because they are automatic and redundant, they are sequenced to go off at certain time intervals and need to be deactivated when the SCBA is not in use.
When a PASS alarm activates, it is supposed to initiate a response from other firefighters. Instead, due to many false activations and the desensitizing of firefighters senses to the PASS alarm, it only initiates a look in the direction of where the sound is coming from, if that at all.
In the video you will hear a PASS alarm going off and you will see the reaction from the other firefighters. The reaction is no reaction.
Remember what I mentioned in the beginning, the PASS alarm is a distress call, or a 911 call, being made by that firefighter. It requires a reaction — and if it is a false activation, then that reaction needs to be in a manner that will let that firefighter know, that it will not be tolerated.
This starts on the training grounds — hammer in the idea that false activations are not acceptable and when one does happen, there needs to be a reaction to let the others know that you are very serious about this.
Going old school
But what if a firefighter is not wearing an SCBA? How can a firefighter set off a distress signal without his SCBA?
It might warrant some thought to the idea of wearing a manual PASS alarm on our structural firefighting gear for just this purpose. I do know of one department in Pennsylvania that makes their members wear a manual PASS on their gear.
The idea is that at vehicle accidents or calls where a SCBA is not needed but there exists a potential for a firefighter to get lost, trapped or injured, they will have a way to summon help.
This may seem like overkill, but perhaps the logic is sound enough to initiate some discussion and consideration into this.
Stop the false activations and start reinforcing the seriousness of the PASS alarm and what it is designed for.