Service Delivery with SCBA Out of Cab

A contentious issues is the thought of taking the self-contained breathing apparatus out of the cab.
As more and more fire departments continue to pursue as many avenues as possible to minimize carcinogen exposures to the firefighters, one of the more contentious issues is always the thought of taking the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) out of the cab.

Firefighters who are in favor of it realize it is for the betterment of their health. The firefighters who oppose it are usually a lot more vocal in their opposition. They insist that exiting the cab with the SCBA donned saves valuable time. In turn, this saved time leads to more saved babies, saved grannies, and property conservation.

It is important to keep in mind that there are fire departments that have not stored their SCBA in the cab for many years, and some have never stored them in the cab. To my knowledge, these departments have not had any incidents where the SCBA being out of the cab has had a negative impact on their ability to provide life safety and property conservation services.

What are some “tricks of the trade” to minimize any seconds that may have been lost if the SCBA had been in the cab? First, let’s look at compartment storage. When SCBA are stowed in compartments, we often see them grouped side-by-side in a high-side compartment. With this arrangement, firefighters must compete for the same real estate to access their units. A much better option is for the SCBA to be separated as far apart from each other as possible. This gives firefighters the space to don the SCBA and make the necessary strap connections and adjustments without bumping into each other.

A second “trick of the trade” is to store the SCBA upside down in a high-side compartment. With this method of storage, firefighters simply place their hands on either side of the air cylinder, pull the unit straight out of the compartment while keeping it upside down, and then bring the entire unit over their head while flipping it over as it slides down their back. If the straps have been properly positioned while in the stowage area, this becomes a very efficient way to don the SCBA. It is much smoother and quicker than trying to don it like putting on a coat, jacket, or front-button shirt. A key point in making this method work is practice, practice, practice. As in donning the entire PPE ensemble, repetition breeds efficiency. It should be something you can do with your eyes closed.

Fire departments that don their SCBA after exiting the cab have learned that while donning, it provides a few seconds to grasp the tasks at hand and enables a more effective size-up. It’s a “ready-aim-fire” approach rather than a “ready-fire-aim” approach.

There are other benefits of storing the SCBA out of the cab. One is that it provides for a more comfortable ride when the cab seat has a properly designed seat back instead of a seat back that has an SCBA holder embedded. Almost all fire departments know that for more than 90% of the miles that their firefighters ride on an apparatus, there is no need for the SCBA to be in the cab. Did you ever wonder why the driver’s seat never has an SCBA bracket in the seat back?

A second benefit is that it is much safer for firefighters to exit the cab without having the added weight of the SCBA on their back. When an apparatus arrives on the scene of a working fire, firefighters are easily distracted by the incident scene rather than focusing on where they place their feet and properly grabbing the assist handles. It is even more treacherous at night.

A third, and the most important, benefit is the cleanliness of the cab. An SCBA is one of the most difficult items in the suppression inventory to clean. Even when there is a good SCBA cleaning program, it is near impossible to get an SCBA 100% clean. Regardless, that is no excuse not to clean an SCBA. A 90% clean SCBA is considerably safer than one that has not been cleaned. In addition, cab seats without SCBA holders are easier to clean.

As your department takes steps to improve your health, please don’t resist a suggestion to take the SCBA out of the cab. It’s not as bad an idea as you might think, and you could grow to like it.


ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. His 40-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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