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How to safely transport SCBA on the fire apparatus

Proper storage for self-contained breathing apparatus will reduce contamination in the crew cab and improve firefighter safety on the apparatus

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Today’s fire apparatus, be it pumping or aerial apparatus, carries a number of diverse types of equipment – from thermal imaging cameras, to smoke blowers, to hydraulic rescue tools – necessary to get the job done. But with the exception of the firefighters and officers on board, no single piece of equipment is more important than the self-contained breathing apparatus. For without it, those folks would not be able to work in the IDLH atmospheres structural firefighting entail.

In the past 40 years or so, the way SCBA has been stored aboard fire apparatus has changed greatly. When fire departments first began to routinely carry SCBA aboard fire apparatus, the units were stored in carrying cases and stowed in compartments on the apparatus.

Around the mid-1970s, a growing number of departments had replaced, or were replacing, their fire apparatus with new apparatus with firefighter seating (the practice of firefighters riding aboard apparatus while standing on the tailboard was beginning to fade away). With those new seating positions, fire departments started mounting the SCBA behind the firefighters in those jump seats so firefighters could don their breathing apparatus while enroute to the emergency.

Removing firefighter exposure risk in the apparatus

The increased risk of firefighters developing cancer from their exposure to toxic materials and carcinogens has led to many changes and raised many questions, one of which is how appropriate is it to have contaminated gear and equipment in the crew cab when returning to the station following a fire.

Even with gross decontamination taking place on the scene, transporting wet turnout gear and SCBAs that have not been properly cleaned and dried in the crew compartment opens a whole new can of worms.

First there’s the secondary contamination of the crew compartment from water and off-gassing coming from PPE and SCBA. Then there’s the issue of having personnel riding in this closed space with said gear. And finally, you have the challenge of how to properly decontaminate the crew cab back at the station upon arrival.

One solution that’s gaining popularity among fire departments is keeping all firefighting equipment out of the cab: that means no SCBAs, no irons, no TICs, etc. The exception is individual firefighter PPE that has been cleaned in accordance with departmental policy and manufacturer recommendations. This means returning SCBA back to exterior compartments. We’ve come full circle.

Transporting SCBA

The current edition of NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus 2016 edition still lists requirements for properly securing equipment in the fire apparatus crew compartment. Those applicable sections will likely undergo significant revisions during the next revision cycle (beginning in 2021).

But the performance requirements found in NFPA 1901 are very applicable – and would be expected to remain so in the future – for mounting and storing SCBA aboard fire apparatus. For example, the current requirements for mounting equipment in the driving or crew cab areas include one of the following:

  • Capable of containing the contents when a 9 g force is applied in the longitudinal axis of the vehicle.
  • Capable of containing the contents when a 3 g force is applied in any direction.
  • Capable of keeping the bracket-mounted equipment in the bracket when the equipment is subjected to those same forces.

Section 15.5 – SCBA Storage in NFPA 1901 provides additional guidance for SCBA storage in fire apparatus compartments.

How to implement safer SCBA storage on your apparatus

This new world for storing SCBA on fire apparatus, and firefighters donning their SCBA after arrival at the emergency requires the proper hardware in addition to new policies, procedures and work practices.

Now is an appropriate time to reassess just how your department is using the available compartment space on its fire apparatus. What are you carrying that you no longer use or need? How could compartment space be used more efficiently and effectively, implementing tool mounting systems and brackets that enable you to use the entire compartment?

When it comes to your department’s SCBA, a good first step is to develop a consensus on how your firefighters are going to don their SCBA upon arrival at an emergency. Will they be taking the SCBAs out of a compartment and donning them? Or will a firefighter back up to a SCBA that’s mounted on a swing out or swing down bracket, tighten the straps and walk away with his or her SCBA?

Next, whichever method you’ve decided to employ, ensure the compartment space has properly fitted brackets and covers – especially for SCBA face pieces – to keep your SCBA secure and clean for when you need it most.

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.