Points to Consider When Selecting Fire Service SCBA

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Selecting and purchasing SCBA can be a complex process. Not only is it capital-intensive, it also represents a long-term investment in arguably the most important piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) that a firefighter puts on. The SCBA is a critical lifeline to the firefighter and should be given careful consideration before making a 12 to 15-year investment.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1852 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) provides a good overview of selection program elements as well as a generic list of minimum considerations for an SCBA selection process. However, the NFPA recognizes the diversity of the offerings on the market today. NFPA 1852 also states, “The organization shall compile and evaluate information on comparative product strengths and weaknesses.”

Simply put, not all SCBA are the same. NFPA standards represent minimum requirements and are not intended to restrict a manufacturer from exceeding those standards. To make the right SCBA selection decision for your department, seriously consider taking a holistic approach, including soliciting top-to-bottom feedback throughout your organization.

Understanding Administrative and Financial Considerations

At the administrative level, the fire department should work closely with the finance department to understand any requirements that may guide the selection process. Understanding your municipality’s rules for expenditures will allow you to successfully navigate the purchasing process and align expectations from vendors to evaluators and any other administrators involved.

Assessing Administrative and Financial Considerations

NFPA 1852 requires the performance of an official risk assessment that shall include, but not necessarily be limited to:

  • Expected hazards most likely to be encountered by users of selected SCBA
  • The types of duties personnel will be expected to perform
  • How frequency the use of SCBA is anticipated
  • The organization prior experience
  • The climatic conditions under where the SCBA will be used

In addition to NFPA 1852, the department should also review and become familiar with the latest edition of NFPA 1981 Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services which establishes the minimum requirements for the design, performance, testing, and certification of SCBA intended to protect personnel during firefighting and similar operations where atmospheres are or could become Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH).

Once your department determines the parameters of the selection process, it is a good idea to reach out to various suppliers (find one near you) and talk with them about your department’s needs for SCBA. Any reputable vendor will be up to speed on the latest guiding standards as they pertain to the requirements of SCBA. Keep in mind, there is a lot of research required by any department when selecting SCBA, as the technology and the standards generally evolve significantly over a given SCBA product life cycle.

When making the SCBA selection, it is also important to consider maintenance schedules and developing a plan for servicing and maintaining this major investment. Again, this is an area where vendor relationships matter. A solid equipment representative (find a representative near you) will be able to understand your department’s existing maintenance capabilities and work with you to develop a care and maintenance plan that is consistent with industry standards such as NFPA 1852, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).

Collecting Critical End User Feedback

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the selection process when choosing an SCBA for your department is to gather meaningful user feedback. End user hands-on evaluation and feedback are imperative parts of the SCBA selection process. The feedback process should be comprehensive and may include:

  • Ample chances for department members to objectively evaluate possible SCBA
  • Opportunities for your frontline firefighters and officers to train and work with any SCBA your department is considering for use
  • Specific situations involving the fireground; this could include setting up training environments to simulate the noise and various working conditions personnel will encounter

Additionally, with respect to care and maintenance experiences, you should reach out to other fire departments of similar size and call volume that may have recently acquired SCBA and solicit end user feedback with respect to fireground performance and maintenance. Sharing this knowledge can help with not only selection recommendations, but it can also be a great opportunity for best practice sharing about SCBA use and other equipment procedures.

The authenticity of this feedback will be paramount to a successful selection process. This gathered information should be one of the key factors in deciding which SCBA to move forward within the selection process.

Once the department has obtained sufficient feedback, the data, both qualitative and quantitative, should be compiled for review, preferably by a designated SCBA selection committee. With an expenditure of this magnitude, the decision-making process should not occur in a vacuum; buy-in and consensus should be derived from the administration to the frontline firefighters on the street.

The overall theme for successful evaluation and selection of an SCBA is dependent on new or existing processes, a sound plan as well as open dialogue and relationships throughout the entire selection process. If you are at a loss as to how to get started in the selection process, NFPA 1852: Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), Chapter 5, Section 1 contains an outline of a best-practice approach.

Making these considerations a priority will help ensure that you and your team select the right SCBA for your department, keeping in mind that you are purchasing equipment to keep your members safe as they serve your citizens every single day. Keeping members safe with equipment they can count on is of the utmost importance. For help selecting the right SCBA for your fire department, please do not hesitate to reach out to our health and safety specialists today for assistance.