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Buy used: From apparatus to SCBA, save your department money

A government-approved method to refurbish SCBA units and cylinders can provide significant savings to fire departments


Many fire service leaders are no doubt familiar with the availability of good quality, used fire apparatus. But apparatus are not the only fire equipment you can buy used. In this piece, we’ll explore what’s in the marketplace that can give you and your department respiratory protection equipment at a significant cost savings when compared to purchasing new.

Refurbished SCBA units

With new SCBA units starting at $1,500, the ability to purchase refurbished SCBA units for less than $1,000 is a great benefit for many fire departments, especially volunteer-staffed fire departments supported by community donations and fundraising activities.

When evaluating your purchase, look for affordable, clean and comprehensively tested breathing apparatus, backed by warranty and refurbished using original equipment manufacturer parts.

Qualified technicians understand the unique cleaning requirement for SCBA and use ultrasonic cleaners and commercial extractors to give refurbished SCBA units a “like new” appearance.

Requalified SCBA cylinders

When is the 15-year lifecycle of a standard carbon fiber composite SCBA cylinders not limited to 15 years? When it’s a cylinder that’s been requalified using a life extension process based on modal acoustic emission (MAE) testing technology.

MAE testing finds and analyzes microscopic flaws in carbon fiber composite SCBA cylinders through non-destructive vibration. Once any flaws are detected, the cylinder’s aluminum liner is reconditioned to repair those flaws and extend its life.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) approved life extension for carbon fiber composite SCBA cylinders beyond 15 years by issuing DOT Special Permit 16320.

The DOT requires the following to safely extend the cylinder’s life beyond the original equipment manufacturers’ 15-year specification:

  • Cylinder liner remediation;
  • Proof that the liner remediation was performed correctly using MAE testing.
  • Re-labeling of the cylinder.

Requalified SCBA cylinders retain the OEM’s special permit number, part number and label. All requalified cylinders must meet all the requirements of 42 CFR Part 84. Each cylinder receives a re-qualifier’s identification number (RIN) sticker that’s permanently affixed to the cylinder with the re-qualifier’s RIN and the SP number under which the testing was performed, as required in Section 7 (h) in special permit 16320.

The process can extend an SCBA cylinder’s life an additional 15 years; 30 years total from the original manufacture date. During that 15-year extension, a cylinder must undergo requalification with a MAE test every five years after life extension, which comes to a total of three such tests over the 15-year extension.

How do you know that requalification really works? Research has shown that standard carbon fiber composite SCBA cylinders lasted 24,000 refill cycles after life extension processing. At this number of cycles, ISO 11119-2 states that the cylinder has infinite life.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.