Equipment manufacturers and firefighters are constantly striving to improve firefighting equipment. This is a good thing as it benefits the health and safety of the firefighter. Too many lives have been lost due to faulty or absent equipment.
A recent breakthrough that promises huge dividends to firefighter safety comes from the SCBA segment. Scott Safety rolled out its 5.5 cylinders and I examined the offering to see what benefits firefighters can expect. But first, here's an overview of the new cylinders.
The new 5.5, or 5500 psi, cylinder is now in production and some fire departments are in the process of buying and even using the newer cylinders. The cylinders come in four time-rated sizes: 30 minute, 45 minute, 60 minute and 75 minute.
The 5.5's improvements over previous SCBA cylinders fall into four specific areas: weight and size, capacity, special operations and ease of transition.
Lighter weight, smaller package
The new 5.5 cylinders offer a weight reduction of 10 percent on average for all of their cylinders. For example, the 30-minute cylinder weighs 12 percent less than the previous model.
This means less fatigue for firefighters. Firefighters will still experience fatigue as they operate on the fireground, but the time it takes to reach that point of fatigue will be increased by less weight on their backs.
The profile of the new cylinders has been trimmed on average by 10 percent. This improves firefighter mobility and flexibility. Additionally, the cylinder sits closer to the body in the air pack, which provides a more streamline profile that reduces entanglement hazards.
The biggest benefit of the reduced weight and size is the ability to carry more air. The increased air pressure in the cylinder gives firefighters 50 percent more air in the same size cylinder they may be currently using.
For example, a 30-minute 4.5 cylinder is equal in size to a 45-minute 5.5 cylinder. A firefighter using the 45-minute 5.5 cylinder is now carrying 50 percent more air. This allows firefighters to work longer on fireground operations.
The additional breathing air provides a safety buffer. If work cycles are 20 minutes for the firefighter, they will have a larger cushion of safety with their air supply using a 45-minute 5.5 cylinder, as opposed to a 30-minute 4.5 cylinder, keeping to the same 20-minute work cycle. The same holds true for using a 45-minute 4.5 cylinder in a 30-minute work cycle. Using the 60-minute 5.5 cylinder provides a significant buffer of reserve air for these users.
A fire department's special operations teams — hazardous materials, confined-space rescue, high-rise operations and rapid intervention — require greater air supply to sustain longer operational period.
The 75-minute 5.5 cylinder is the same size as the 60-minute 4.5 cylinders but with 25 percent more air. Hazardous materials teams will have an increased safety cushion with their air as they work in the hot zone.
For the confined space rescue team, it will mean fewer cylinder change outs in the air cart for the supplied air breathing apparatus. Firefighters assigned to high-rise response who are outfitted with the 75-minute cylinder will have longer operating time in an already time- and air-consuming situation.
Likewise, the rapid intervention team can operate for a longer period of time in firefighter rescue. The RIT bag also can be stocked by the 75-minute cylinder providing the MAYDAY firefighter with 25 percent more air supply. This, of course, will be especially important for difficult rescue situations.
New equipment transition
Each time a fire department receives a new piece of equipment it is obligated to train each firefighter in its operation and then ensure that the infrastructure is in place to use it. There are three factors that make transitioning to the 5.5 cylinders easy.
First, the air compressor used to fill the 4.5, or 4500 psi, cylinders will be able to accommodate the higher pressure requirements. A simple upgrade kit is all that is needed to convert the air compressor and fill station to fill the newer 5.5s.
Second, the brackets or seat mounted devices for the current SCBAs will accommodate the newer 5.5s. Again there may not be a need for added equipment or parts to retrofit the existing the seat mount in order to accommodate the 5.5 cylinder.
Third, training firefighters to use the new equipment will be simple as the new 5.5 cylinder and Air-Paks function exactly the same as the 4.5s or even the 2.2s. There has not been a significant change in the looks or operational functions of the newer systems.
I've highlighted only a few of the Scott 5.5 cylinder's benefits, but they will have a big impact on how a firefighter and fire department can operate. The biggest benefit is the increased air supply, which to firefighters is the most precious commodity on the fireground.
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