The PASS (Personal Alert Safety System) alarm sounds. Smoke and flames engulf the area. Your breathing air supply is quickly diminishing. Evading the fiery scene is not an option. In this crucial moment, a firefighter entrenched in the middle of a blaze with a dwindling air supply turns to the single-most important piece of equipment.
Firefighters, HAZMAT crews and even underwater scuba divers should have a deep understanding of their breathing apparatus and possess the knowledge of preventative maintenance for the particular unit being employed. Simple issues such as blocked air or improper connections on self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) gear can instantaneously become serious problems under extreme circumstances when time is of the essence. Equipment of this magnitude in which people are entrusting their lives must follow rigorous guidelines.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), founded in 1896, has established more than 300 consensus codes and standards to minimize the possibility and devastating effects of fire and to ensure firefighters and emergency services personnel operate safely in the most hostile environments. Through their own research and outreach to over 9,000 volunteer committee members, NFPA’s codes and standards are revised every three to five years for quality and safety, and range from hazards and risks associated with different types of building construction to inspection requirements and evaluation of firefighting equipment and instruments.
In particular, NFPA 1981 defined the standard of respiratory protection and functional requirements for SCBA. This includes the design, performance, testing and certification of the breathing apparatus. But, did not specify requirements for any accessories that could be attached to the certified product not approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Over time, NFPA 1981 has undergone notable changes including standards for redundant low pressure warning devices, heads up display (HUD) to signal the amount of an air cylinder’s available capacity, new voice communication intelligibility requirements, testing for increased facepiece lens integrity and most importantly of all, acknowledging Emergency Breathing Safety Systems (EBSS), commonly referred to as buddy breathers.
A Buddy Breather is a rescue technique when two people share one air source, alternately breathing from it. There had been great hesitation by NFPA to recognize the buddy breather over technical challenges such as having the ability to deliver twice the volume of airflow to ensure adequate air to both users. To this day, the buddy breather is considered an accessory and not a requirement. NFPA, NIOSH, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or any manufacturer do not recommend or approve sharing air between firefighters.
However, in a compromised emergency situation, the buddy breather could be the single-most important piece of equipment on a firefighters’ protective suit. This survival accessory features a small manifold with a hose that detaches from the regulator. The air bottle can be managed down to 125-135 pounds per square inch (PSI) and attaches to the manifold, which contains a male and female coupling. The setup allows a firefighter in need of compressed air to connect their coupling to another firefighters’ air bottle in the event of an emergency.
Herein lies the problem which the new NFPA coupling standard has resolved. There is a variety of SCBA gear available today for fire departments to utilize. And each one could feature a different type of coupling system. If “Fire Department A” and “Fire Department B” are both on-scene of a fire, chances are high their couplings are not compatible to each other’s buddy breathers, making them non-operational and ineffective across the two groups of firefighters
A Universal Emergency Breathing Safety System (UEBSS) standard has been adopted into the NFPA 1981-2018 Edition. The new UEBSS standard requires all SCBA manufacturers to produce units that accommodate Rapid Intervention Crew Universal Air Coupling (RIC UAC) to be in compliance for firefighting. The universal coupling interface chosen will allow an air bottle lacking compressed air to be transfilled from another bottle regardless of the breathing system manufacturer. Each air bottle would then have equal amounts of air in them after the fill. This means a firefighter can effectively use the buddy breather system to provide air to another firefighter without concern for the brand of SCBA gear.
In fact, the NFPA volunteer committee selected a Parker quick coupling design to adopt as the industry standard for manufacturers to follow for designing and building interchangeable couplings. A universally standard coupling compatible across all new and existing SCBA gear ensures firefighters will not have to remove their facepiece during an air supply malfunction or failure. Plus, fire departments and personnel can become thoroughly familiar with one standardized system and how it works. This ensures connectability of all air line couplings that may need to be connected or disconnected in the event of an emergency.
SCBA is a critical component in the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by firefighters and emergency personnel. Regardless of rank and tenure, firefighters can encounter a problem with their gear. When seconds matter the most, emergency procedures such as the buddy breather has significant influence on firefighter safety. And with a universal coupling system, the chance of survival only increases for firefighters.
Contact us for more information on Parker’s NFPA selected coupling design.
Article contributed by Todd Lambert, market sales manager, Quick Coupling Division, Parker Hannifin Corporation.