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How well do you know your SCBA?

Regular and thorough inspection is critical to SCBA performance, but so too is the paper trail for that work


Regular and thorough inspection is critical to SCBA performance.

Photo/Los Angeles County Fire Department

Article updated October 10, 2018

The unthinkable has just struck a department: a line-of-duty death.

A crew was working its way into a fire on the first floor when suddenly the floor gave out beneath them. One firefighter is dead and two others seriously injured after they fell into the well-involved basement, the fire’s area of origin.

When a firefighter dies or is seriously injured in the line of duty, all of their personal protective clothing and SCBA immediately become part of the post-incident investigation, which will be conducted by the National Institute for Safety and Health. The gear must be isolated, bagged, and tagged as evidence and a chain-of-custody established and documented.

Records for the SCBA units that were used by the deceased or injured that show: inspections, repairs, in/out of service, testing, etc., for the unit’s lifecycle.In addition to the gear, the investigative team from NIOSH is going to want access to all documentation in a department’s possession regarding:

  • Records for individuals concerning their training specific to the SCBA they were using (both initial training and continuing training) and results of mask fit tests (initial and annual).

If this were to happen in your department, would you be able to provide such requested documentation?

A concise record of SCBA care and maintenance

More than ever before, fire department leaders must ensure that their department maintains accurate and detailed documentation that complies with applicable laws, rules, standards and regulations.

We have more detailed regulatory requirements; an increased emphasis on firefighter safety; an increased emphasis on workplace safety and worker health and welfare; and ours is the most litigious society in the world.

Do you really want to find out how well the people in your organization are doing their job, and documenting that work, in a NIOSH report or in court?

Does your department have SCBA policies, procedures and processes that are congruent with our consensus standard, NFPA 1852: Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus?

All NFPA standards are consensus standards, meaning that the final document is the result of a process that seeks consensus from those entities that have “chips on the table.” In our case, that means representatives from career and volunteer fire organizations, manufacturers, state fire agencies, etc.

These are our standards, and while your jurisdiction may not have formally adopted NFPA 1852 — or any of the other NFPA standards — those standards will be used to evaluate the actions of your department and its personnel during a LODD investigation or lawsuit.

The contents of Chapters 6 (care) and 7 (maintenance) are key sections of this NFPA standard because there is where we find the vast majority of requirements that must be addressed on a regular basis. While many of us may refer to all activities associated with our SCBA as maintenance, NFPA 1852 is very specific in differentiating the activities associated with having operational SCBA.

SCBA care based on manufacturer’s recommendations

The term care includes the use, handling, storage and cleaning of all components of the SCBA — repeat after me — according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Use only the recommended cleaning solutions, tools, drying techniques, and storage practices. Failure to do so creates grounds for the manufacturer to void warranties; it also creates exposure to legal liability for the department should the unit fail during use.

SCBA inspection types

Is the following statement true or false: NFPA 1852 specifies four different types of SCBA inspections and their required frequencies.


The term inspection means the act of an individual to visually and tactilely examine, and exercise as appropriate, the key components of the SCBA unit. First, NFPA 1852 defines the four types of inspections and their frequencies.

  1. It’s your responsibility to conduct the required inspection on the SCBA in that riding position, not the driver or anyone else. The same applies to the officer and anyone else assigned to the apparatus for the tour of duty. “Where SCBA is assigned to an individual user for a duty period, the inspection specified in 7.1.2 shall be performed by the individual user at the beginning of each duty period (NFPA 1852,”
  2. The driver or anyone else on the assigned crew can inspect any SCBA on their apparatus that is not assigned to anyone for that tour of duty, such as the SCBA in an unoccupied seat or additional units stored on the apparatus. “Where additional SCBA are available for use on response vehicles, but not assigned to individual users, the inspection … shall be performed on such additional SCBA at least once each duty period (NFPA 1852,”
  3. There is more latitude for the frequency of the required inspections when personnel are not assigned to specific tours of duty, as is the case with volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters. The SCBA still must undergo the required inspection every week. “Where SCBA are not assigned to an individual user for a duty period, the inspection … shall be performed at least once a week on all SCBA that are available for use (NFPA 1852,”
  4. And as always, we have the catch-all requirement. “In all cases, the interval between the inspections … shall not exceed 1 week (NFPA 1582,”

Next, NFPA 1852 specifies what must be inspected. All of the following SCBA components shall be present:

  • Facepiece
  • Backframe and harness assembly
  • High-pressure air storage cylinder
  • Hose
  • Air pressure regulator
  • End-of-service-time indicators (EOTSI)
  • Accessories: integrated PASS, heads-up display, rapid intervention crew/universal air connection, etc.

The standard also provides guidance and direction as to how a component should be inspected: visually, tactilely, or both, and whether the component must be exercised during the inspection — operation of the unit to test the EOTSI.

Repairs for SCBA

Department personnel must be able to identify those repairs to an SCBA unit that they can make and the signs that indicate an SCBA should be removed from service and examined by a certified technician.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations that are included in the operational manual, online at the manufacturer’s website, and in your department’s initial training on the unit.

Ensure that your department has a process for recording the repairs done to an SCBA unit, regardless if the repair was done by a firefighter or a technician. When the unit is taken out of service for repair by a certified technician, your process should include documentation showing:

  • What problem required the unit’s removal from service.
  • Date and time unit was removed from service along with the identity of the person taking the action.

Forward a copy of this information along with the SCBA to the technician or shop that will complete the repair.

When the unit returns from being repaired, your department’s process should include the following information before putting the unit back in service:

  • Date and time unit was received.
  • Description of the repairs made to the unit, the name of the technician who worked on the unit, and the name of the company that employs the technician.
  • Inspection of the unit to ensure that the necessary repairs have been made and that the unit is now functioning properly.
  • Date and time unit was placed back in service.

The methodology used to address the required documentation process for SCBA care and maintenance can range from handwritten notes in a notebook or journal for each SCBA unit to information captured in electronic fire records management software.

Regardless of the methodology your department employs, the information for each unit must include:

  • Date the unit was first placed in service.
  • Dates for required inspections along with name of the person who conducted the inspection.
  • Dates for each use of the SCBA — training exercise or fire incident, along with the name of the user.
  • Information regarding repairs to unit and manufacturer upgrades, etc.
  • Date the unit was permanently removed from service.

The person responsible for conducting the inspection on the SCBA has the responsibility for documenting that the inspection was completed as required.

I think we can all agree that SCBA is one of the most critical components of the firefighter’s protective ensemble. It is also the most sophisticated — and becoming more so every year — and it’s the only piece of the protective ensemble that we don’t issue to the individual.

It’s also the only piece of the protective ensemble that the individual uses where they might be depending upon the actions of someone else to ensure the SCBA’s proper operation.

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.

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