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 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.


Don’t play with fire in your workplace

By Erik Harden, Public Information Officer, BWC Communications Department

nfpw-2016This week is National Fire Prevention Week, the annual awareness campaign promoted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The NFPA is focusing this year’s campaign on residential smoke alarm awareness with the theme: Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years. Practicing fire prevention is the smart thing to do at home, but it’s also critical in the workplace.

At BWC, we are doing our part to protect Ohio’s workers from the hazards of fire in the workplace through publications, classes and library resources focusing on this important topic.

For example, we have an educational guide on preventing flammable liquid fires and prepared safety talks about fire safety to help lead discussions with your workers.

Want to show your employees a video on fire prevention? Browse the extensive selection our library has to offer. Want more in-depth training? We also have educational courses targeted toward industries with high potential for fire hazards (e.g. welding and brazing).

state-fire-marshalFinally, don’t forget to visit the State Fire Marshal’s site for more information on fire prevention for your home and business. The site has several useful resources, including this Business Fire Safety Checklist.

With National Fire Prevention Week upon us, the State Fire Marshal’s office reminds us that about 115 Ohioans die each year in fires. Sadly, many of these deaths could have been prevented with a few quick and easy steps. This week they are promoting a social media campaign that asks “What can you do?” to help reduce this number. We also encourage you to take a moment to think about one thing you can do to prevent fires and fire deaths.

That’s not just a tight spot … that’s a confined space!

PERRP pictureBy Glenn McGinley, Director, Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction Program and member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Confined Space Safe Work Practices

Have you ever had a feeling of claustrophobia – that feeling that you’re trapped and a longing for open spaces while the refrain of “don’t fence me in” plays repeatedly in your mind?

Maybe your intuition is trying to tell you something…something you should listen to.

Each year, on average, at least one worker dies every week performing work in confined spaces and dozens more are seriously injured. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, there is an average of 92 confined-space-related fatalities every year.1

Unfortunately, these fatality statistics don’t fluctuate very much year to year and the overall number of annual fatalities hasn’t changed much since the creation of the OSHA “general industry” permit-required confined spaces (29 CFR 1910.146) in 1993. In 2015, a new OSHA standard for the construction industry (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA) went into effect and this new standard and other new publications have turned the spotlight on the hazards of confined space work.

So why hasn’t there been a significant reduction in confined space related fatalities? I think the answer is a lack of recognition of the nature and existence of confined spaces in workplaces.

Many workplaces have enclosed or confined spaces that require procedures, training and appropriate equipment before employees can safely enter and perform assigned work tasks. However, many times employers have not identified these spaces and employees are unaware of their existence or the precautions that are necessary to ensure their safety.

What is a confined space?
The OSHA standards define a confined space as a space that:

  • Has a restricted or limited means of entry/exit;
  • Isn’t designed for continuous occupancy by employees, but is large enough for employees to “bodily enter” and perform work.

There are a lot of work areas that meet this definition. When a hazardous condition exists or is introduced into that work space it can become life threatening very quickly. Examples of confined spaces include sewers, silos, vats, vaults and tanks (open and closed). Areas like crawlspaces, air handlers and ductwork are also prime examples of confined spaces.

The standard also identifies high risk spaces or “permit-required” confined spaces as those spaces that have one or more potentially hazardous characteristics that include:

  • An actual or potentially hazardous atmosphere;
  • Material(s) that can engulf (cover or trap) an entrant;
  • Walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant;
  • Any other recognized safety or health hazard (e.g., unguarded machinery, exposed energized electrical wires and temperature extremes).

So, what are some best practices that employers can use to identify confined spaces and ensure they eliminate or control hazardous conditions when employees work in or around those spaces?

The following are resources to help you identify confined spaces and then begin the process of developing and implementing a confined space program in your workplace.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recently issued NFPA 350, Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry and Work. This extensive resource focuses on “best practices” and provides a how-to for confined space entry and work. The document explains and interprets what the regulations require and provides practical approaches to implement those requirements. The OSHA standards establish minimum requirements, while the “NFPA 350 strives to establish work practices that achieve a higher level of safety.”

OSHA Publication 3825, (September 2015), Protecting Construction Workers in Confined Spaces: Small Entity Compliance Guide addresses some of the most-common compliance issues that employers will face. While OSHA has geared it toward the construction industry, many of the concepts are useful for developing a program for any workplace. OSHA also has “safety and health topics” pages with additional confined resources for general industry and construction employers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also has a web page devoted to confined space information. The web page contains several resources, including the results of fatality investigations and health hazard evaluations that it has conducted under the NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) and Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) programs.

BWC’s multi-disciplinary team of experts and services can assist you with identifying confined spaces in your workplace and with the process of developing a confined space program.

BWC also has an excellent training program on Confined Space Assessment and Work and a confined space “Safety Talk” that can help jumpstart the confined space conversation in your workplace.

Our team is available to help your team improve safety in your workplace. Give us a call today!

1 Source: U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).

Before you start to Grill – Remember Hank Hill

By Jeffrey Hutchins – Industrial Hygiene Technical Advisor

grillHank Hill, patriarch of TV’s “King of the Hill”, famously said “If you’re having grill problems, I feel bad for you son.  I’ve got 99 problems but propane ain’t one.”   Data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) indicates that the rest of us might not be so fortunate.

According to a 2016 NFPA report on grill fires[i] , fire departments responded to approximately 8900 home fires each year involving grills, hibachis or barbeques.

These fires caused annual averages of 10 civilian deaths, 160 civilian injuries and $118 million in direct property damage.  And much to Hank Hill’s dismay, LP-gas* was a major contributing cause.

Source: “Home Grill Fires” (2016) NFPA. Accessed 10 June 2016.[i]

The most common holidays for grilling are the Fourth of July (76%), followed by Labor Day and Memorial Day (each 62%), so it follows that more grill fires occur in July than any other month.

To avoid becoming one of these statistics, the NFPA and US Fire Administration[ii] recommend the following safety precautions:

  • Regardless of fuel source, BBQ grills should always be used outdoors.
  • Locate the grill well away (10 feet or more) from combustible material such as the house, deck railings, eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep children* and pets away.

*Grill contact accounted for 37% of burns seen at emergency rooms in 2014 involving children under five.[iii]

  • Keep your grill free from oil & grease buildup, which is a common cause of fires.
  • Before lighting your gas grill, use a light soap & water solution to check all gas connections for leaks (appearance of bubbles).  Tighten any leaking connections.  If the leak will not stop, evacuate the area and call the fire department immediately.
  • Whether using a chimney-style starter or charcoal starter fluid, never leave burning charcoal unattended.
  • Never add starter fluid or any other flammable liquid to the fire.
  • When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.

By following these steps, you can channel your inner Hank Hill in proclaiming “I got 99 problems, but grill fires ain’t one of them.”


[i] Home Grill Fires. (2016) NFPA

[ii] Grilling Fire Safety.  (2016) US Fire Safety Administration

[iii] Cooking Fact Sheet. (2015) NFPA 

* LP-gas = Liquefied Petroleum (Gas) can be either Propane or Butane or a mixture of both.