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Your go-to guide for back-to-basics SCBA training

Training on proper use can help reduce the risk of injury and even cancer


Understanding every detail of the SCBA is vital to a firefighter’s survival.

Photo/Professional Volunteer Firefighters of Halifax

In recent years, the prevalence of cancer among firefighters has been at the forefront of conversations in the fire service, along with a strong push to lower the number of firefighters who are stricken with this horrible disease. Proper use of an SCBA is one way to combat these cancer concerns.

As we all know, firefighters often operate in IDLH areas. It is therefore critical to always use an SCBA in these areas and never inhale any form of smoke or toxic chemicals. To ensure that we are always prepared to operate safely in IDLH areas, we must train on proper use of the SCBA. Even if you have used one for many years, regular training on use of the SCBA is always a good idea.

The SCBA workup: Getting “hands on” with the equipment

Understanding every detail of the SCBA is vital to a firefighter’s survival. Instructors should review each component of the SCBA and its purpose in the classroom before hands-on training begins.

Most SCBA manufacturers provide detailed instructions for each product component for reference by the end-user. Manufacturers also provide online videos that address SCBA use, regular inspection and cleaning requirements.

Whatever instructional method is used, firefighters should always “put their hands on the SCBA” to demonstrate their knowledge of its use. Firefighters should be able to demonstrate master of tasks such as changing batteries, inspecting the facepiece and switching on integrated TICs.

Daily SCBA inspections

Firefighters should perform a daily inspection of the SCBA using the following steps:

  • Check the outside of the air cylinder for any damage that may present a hazard or danger during operation.
  • Inspect the hose to the regulator and ensure that the regulator is operating correctly.
  • Open the main tank valve to allow air into the system. Compare the tank valve pressure to the pressure shown on the remote pressure gauge.
  • Check the regulator purge or bypass value, as well as the air-saver switch on the regulator. Open the bypass to check the airflow to the regulator, then connect the facepiece to the regulator.
  • Don the facepiece and inhale normally to ensure the airflow for standard operation.

Donning the SCBA

After proficiency in SCBA inspection and operation has been demonstrated, instruction should move to an area that allows the firefighters to don their turnout gear. Firefighters should be instructed to begin with the over-the-head method of donning their SCBA using these steps:

  • Place the SCBA directly in front of you.
  • Lay the shoulder straps beside the SCBA and turn on the main tank valve.
  • Grab the backplate and bring the entire SCBA over your head, allowing the backplate to slowly glide down your back.
  • Once in place, adjust the shoulder straps and waist belt to ensure the SCBA is comfortable.
  • Don the facepiece and hood, ensuring the entire face is covered.

Instructors should have the firefighters conduct a gear and SCBA inspection on each other to ensure all gear is on correctly.

Drilling on SCBA deployment

Finally, instructors should have the crew conduct a short, simulated search with their regulator connected and breathing air. Begin the simulation by having the firefighters disconnect their regulator and begin the process of doffing their SCBA.

  • Disconnect the regulator from the facepiece, depressing the air-saver switch.
  • Slowly remove the helmet and hood. Loosen the facepiece straps and remove the facepiece.
  • Always keep the facepiece in a safe place to prevent damage.
  • Loosen the belt and shoulder straps and remove the SCBA, placing it on the ground.
  • Turn off the main tank valve and purge the remaining air from the regulator utilizing the bypass valve.
  • Turn off the integrated PASS device. There is nothing worse than having an SCBA lying on the ground with a PASS device going off.

Basic, but essential, skills

This information may seem basic and may not be required in many departments. However, it is always good for firefighters to practice and perfect these basic skills in order to perform at an expected standard.

Be safe and train hard!

Chief Keith Padgett serves as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Academic Program Director with Columbia Southern University within the College of Safety and Emergency Services. A 42-year member of the fire service, Padgett previously served as fire chief of the Beulah Fire District in Valley, Alabama, and as the chief/fire marshal for the Fulton County Fire-Rescue Department in Atlanta. He is presently the Co-Chair of the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) EMS curriculum workgroup. He also served as a Specialty Educational Board member for the IAFC Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) Section as the chair of the Professional Development/Higher Education sub-committee as well as a director-at-large board member on the IAFC’s Safety, Health and Survival Section. Padgett completed the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program through the National Fire Academy and has a Chief Fire Officer Destination through the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). He holds a master’s degree in leadership with an emphasis in disaster preparedness and executive fire leadership and a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration. Connect with Padgett on LinkedIn or via email.