SCBA fit testing – Ensuring firefighters’ safety equipment is actually safe

By David Meronk, BWC Industrial Safety Consultant Specialist

Firefighting techniques and equipment used to fight fires have evolved over the years, along with the equipment that protects firefighters from harm.

The self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) plays a big role in protecting the health of firefighters. Knowing is understanding and fire departments are slowly beginning to grasp the real difference safety gear – and its proper use – can make in protecting firefighters from cancer and other ailments.

This increased awareness comes as Ohio now allows presumptive cancer workers’ compensation claims for those who have or may become ill due to specific forms of cancer while performing official duties as a firefighter.

As a safety consultant for BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene, I routinely visit fire stations to review and make recommendations on improving safety to protect our first responders. I often advise on use and care of SCBAs, air cascade air fill stations and firefighting turnout gear.

While fire departments do often lack the funding needed to replace the safety equipment, what surprises me most as I travel and meet with fire chiefs is not lack of proper equipment but improper use of that equipment and a lack of well-written safety programs.

Reviewing and updating policies can help reduce exposure to injury and illness, while promoting good safety practices. I find many chiefs are shocked when they discover their current polices are non-compliant to National Fire Protection Association and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

I remind chiefs that “accidents do not discriminate” and encourage them to embrace the opportunity to make changes that can prevent injuries. A professional saying in the Fire Emergency Services is, “If you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it.”

Especially alarming to me is inadequate or completely nonexistent SCBA “fit testing.”

The respiratory protection program requires fit testing, and SCBA facepiece fit testing is necessary to ensure masks have an adequate mask seal and an acceptable fit factor. Fit tests evaluate the interaction between the firefighter’s face and the SCBA facepiece to ensure a correct and proper fit.

Per OSHA standards, employers must obtain a written recommendation from a designated physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP) regarding each employee’s ability to use a respirator before fit testing. The written release(s) must apply to every type of respirator an employee will use.

Fit testing is critical because firefighters work in environments that are unstable and constantly changing. They are also exposed to unknown inhalation hazards while doing their job. Therefore, they deserve nothing less than the specialized training, tools and equipment to perform their duties safely and efficiently.

Fire departments can conduct fit testing in-house, if they have qualified individuals to administer the test with a calibrated machine. Certified equipment representatives can also administer the test if needed. Depending on the type of fit test machine and types of SCBAs, fire departments can conduct multiple tests of different air packs and masks by switching over the correct fittings for testing.

Fit testing helps maintain proper sizing of the facepiece, safety compliance, training verification and documentation. Fit testing must occur before a firefighter uses a SCBA in an immediately dangerous to life or health environment and once annually thereafter.

There are two types of fit testing: qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative test requires using a sensitizer to test for an air-tight seal. The quantitative test uses a device to measure the amount of air from the environment outside the facepiece in relation to the air inside the facepiece. The fit test includes time-allotted exercises that testers perform on the equipment to make sure it passes. The fire department must maintain all testing records until the next required fit.

There are several exemplary fire departments that do a great job of fit testing, and maintaining solid safety policies. I count the City of Findlay among them.

I’m on a mission to move all Ohio fire departments into that exemplary category. Improperly used safety equipment isn’t safe, and well-written safety policies are great but useless if not followed.

Visit our website to request a consultation with a BWC safety expert, or email me at david.m.15@bwc.state.oh.us for more information.

David Meronk has 30 years of safety experience, including firefighting in military, civil service, private industry, and state and federal contract work overseas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Fire & Safety Engineering from the University of Cincinnati and a Master’s degree in Emergency Management – Terrorism from Jacksonville State University.

Don’t just talk about practice

Prepping for home fires saves lives

By Erik Harden,  BWC Public Information Officer

Fifteen years ago, Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson went on his now-famous “we’re talking ‘bout practice” rant. In a moment of frustration, he argued that whether he practiced or not was ultimately irrelevant to his performance during games.

Lately it seems many Americans feel the same about practicing ways to escape a housefire. In fact, a recent survey by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), reveals almost three-quarters of Americans have an escape plan; however, less than half ever practiced it.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 8-14, focuses on helping us all to develop and practice a plan for escape in the event of a housefire.

In a typical home fire, you may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds. That’s why home escape planning is so critical in a fire situation. It ensures that everyone in the household knows how to use that small window of time wisely.

The NFPA offers the tips and recommendations below for developing and practicing an escape plan.

  • Draw a map of your home with all members of your household, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.
  • Practice your home fire drill twice a year. Conduct one at night and one during the day with everyone in your home, and practice using different ways out.
  • Teach children how to escape on their own in case you can’t help them.
  • Clearly mark the number of your home so the fire department can easily find it.
  • Close doors behind you as you leave – this may slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire.
  • Once you get outside, stay outside. Never go back inside a burning building.

The NFPA has a mapping grid (in English or Spanish) you can use to create a home escape plan with all members of your household. You can even practice it on National Fire Drill Day, this Saturday, Oct. 14.

Iverson was an NBA star who was good enough to sometimes blow off practice and coast on his jaw-dropping talent during games, but in the end he was just playing a game. When it comes to surviving a home fire, practice could literally be the difference between life or death.

 

Celebrate awards season with Safety & Hygiene’s 1947 “Oscar” Winner!

By Amelia Klein, BWC Librarian

While you may be heading to theaters for a last chance to see this year’s Oscar hopefuls, the BWC Library decided to go back in time to celebrate the Division of Safety & Hygiene’s (DSH’s) very own award-winning film, “Men Who Come Back.”

First, a little history: In 1937, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and the Motion Picture Association of America formed the Film Safety Awards Committee. The goal of the committee was to further the theatrical production of highway safety films. In 1943, the award’s scope expanded to include non-theatrical motion pictures and slide films in the categories of home, occupational and general safety. Renamed the National Committee on Films for Safety in 1945, the committee judges included:

  • The National Safety Council;
  • The American Red Cross;
  • The American Society of Safety Engineers;
  • The National Fire Protection Association;
  • As well as representatives from the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy.

In 1947, for the Best Non-Theatrical Motion Picture in the Industrial Safety Field, the winner was … “Men Who Come Back.” Our very own DSH created it and filmed it in Ohio industries! Beginning with statistics on workers’ compensation claims in Ohio, the film shows how men and women can work safely and return home to their families every day. Highlights include setting machine guards, the dangers of not wearing eye protection, eating a well-balanced lunch and the safety of women welders.

Speaking at the celebratory banquet on May 14, 1947, National Safety Council President Ned H. Dearborn gave “a stirring inspirational address on safety, with emphasis on the accident situation in the occupational field” calling for “support for the various agencies whose services are devoted to accident prevention work.” He then paid tribute to the Industrial Commission of Ohio’s DSH before presenting the award to Ohio Gov. Thomas J. Herbert “to the vociferous acclaim of the audience.” Gov. Herbert echoed the call to support safety organizations stating, “Ohio will intensify safety education in all fields to the end that our people shall have the benefit of every possible safeguard at home, at work and on the highway” before congratulating DSH for winning such recognition and high praise.

nsc-trophyOur bronze “Oscar” is still on display in our Ohio Center for Occupational Safety and Health museum.

You can find the article detailing the award ceremony as printed in the June 1947 edition of the Ohio Industrial Commission Monitor here.

To preserve this award-winning film for future generations, the BWC Library has recently digitized its 16mm copy.

Written and directed by H.F. Hillebrandt with photography by V.R. McQuilkin, here is “Men Who Come Back.

Note: A small portion of the beginning is missing from this digitized version of the film.