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The Domino Effect
by Mark van der Feyst

Why SCBA face piece fit tests improve firefighter safety

Not properly testing SCBA face pieces put firefighters in danger now and in years to come

Fit testing evaluates the interface between the firefighter's face and the SCBA face piece to ensure a proper and correct fit. Depending upon legislation in your jurisdiction, fit testing should be done on a yearly basis but must be done every two years. Some jurisdictions require it on an annual basis.

There are two types of fit testing: qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative test requires using a sensitizer to test for an air-tight seal, while the quantitative test uses a device to measure the amount of air from the environment outside the face piece in relation to the air inside the face piece.

The current requirements dictate using quantitative fit-testing methods for any SCBA that is CBRN rated as it produces a truer value for an air-tight fit.

Close shave
One of the biggest obstacles to fit testing is the firefighter's facial hair. In order for the test to be conducted, the firefighter needs to be clean-shaven so that no facial hair interferes with the seal of the face piece.

This seems to be a big problem within the fire service — having clean-shaven firefighters wearing SCBA. I recently conducted a live burn class and to my surprise, five of the 45 firefighters came with facial scruff. They had to quickly shave it off in order to participate in the class.

The fit test is in a controlled environment but when the firefighter wears an SCBA face piece with facial scruff on the fireground, there will be failing results.

The results may be acute or chronic. Regardless, the results will lead to a deadly end.

Quantitative testing
Many fire departments have policies regarding firefighters' facial hair and the use of SCBA. It is important to first have these in place and enforce them for the betterment of the firefighter.

The domino affect here is the physiological breakdown of the firefighter over a period of time, eventually leading to the firefighter becoming handicapped.  

Another important aspect of the SCBA is the flow test. This also is an annual test to ensure the SCBA is functioning in working condition.

SCBA manufacturer and NFPA health and safety rules require this testing. When SCBAs are not flow tested, they put the firefighter in danger. The mechanical device is exposed to harsh environments and will eventually produce mechanical defects in small or in large part. 

About the author

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is currently a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of the book "Residential Fire Rescue." You can contact Mark with feedback at

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David Hails David Hails Sunday, June 08, 2014 12:25:39 PM A face seal fit test should be carried out EVERY TIME a face mask is worn by a firefighter as part of their don and start procedure.
Tim Clark Tim Clark Sunday, June 08, 2014 12:46:16 PM Great stuff Mark. What subject do you teach in India?
Scott Andersen Scott Andersen Monday, June 09, 2014 12:39:10 AM I've went through fit test with facial hair and had equal results as to not having facial hair....until someone can prove and show me otherwise I won't believe it matters. I mean sure someone with a 4 inch beard will have seal issues. But I really would like to personally be shown my facial hair interferes with the seal. Even when I went for the test the lady doing it was like your not gonna get a correct seal and the machine will result in a fail....needless to say I passed to her suprise....just like every other test every other time. I'd like to take the make underwater to prove further the seal is in fact in tact.
John Walker John Walker Thursday, June 12, 2014 8:26:22 AM This is why we fit test annually all departments should

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