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NFPA Issues Safety Alert on SCBA Facepiece Lenses

July 2, 2012 – The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued a Safety Alert on self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) Facepiece Lenses and is recommending that all SCBA facepieces be inspected before and after each use. Any facepiece with thermal degradation, including crack, crazing, bubbling, deformation, discoloring, gaps or holes should be immediately removed from service.

As the IAFF reported last November, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), with funding from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), released its report on a study conducted to determine at what temperatures and conditions self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) facepiece lenses melt or degrade.

Through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, thermally degraded and melted SCBA facepieces have been identified as a contributing factor in certain fire fighter fatalities and injuries. The SCBA facepiece lens is often considered the weakest component of a fire fighter’s ensemble in high heat conditions, but the level of thermal performance for the facepiece lenses was not well understood. The NIST study demonstrates a range of realistic thermal exposures and environmental conditions, which can result in thermal degradation and even catastrophic failure of facepieces.

NFPA has also recommended that:

• SCBA facepiece lenses showing evidence of exposure to intense heat is an indication of thermal degradation and potential failure. In addition to complying with the Inspection, Repair and Removal from Service provisions of NFPA 1852, Selection Care and Maintenance of Open- Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, fire departments, fire academies, and emergency service organizations should ensure that all SCBA facepiece lenses are inspected before and after each use. Any SCBA facepiece lens found to have cracks, crazing, bubbling, deformation, discoloring, gaps or holes should be immediately removed from service and a replacement issued.

• In addition to complying with the provisions of NFPA 1404, Standard for Fire Service Respiratory Protection Training, fire departments, fire training academies and emergency service organizations should review their training programs to ensure that the following components are addressed in their curriculum: the limitations of respiratory protection devices; awareness that delayed recognition of intense thermal environments that can occur while wearing a firefighter protective ensemble; and how to respond to problems encountered when using SCBA in high temperature environments.

• When evaluating fire conditions and determining fire attack tactics and strategies, incident commanders, company officers, and firefighters should take into account the thermal performance limitations of SCBA facepiece lenses and the problem of delayed recognition of heat intensity due to the thermal insulation/protection provided by the PPE ensemble.

• In addition to following existing departmental Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines regarding use of PPE, all personnel engaged in commanding, supervising or performing interior fire attack operations can reduce the possibility of facepiece lens deterioration or failure by maintaining constant situational awareness and by being alert for deteriorating conditions indicative of extreme thermal temperatures/flashover conditions. When confronted with such conditions, personnel must initiate self-evacuation or be directed to retreat to a safe area.

• Fire departments, fire academies and emergency service organizations that use SCBA should begin planning for the upgrade or replacement of current SCBA facepiece lenses with products compliant with the upcoming 2013 edition of NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services.

The NFPA Technical Committee on Respiratory Protection Equipment, on which the IAFF and our members continue to participate, will work to strengthen the performance requirements in NFPA 1981 Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services and will continue to address thermal degradation issues with all SCBA components, including the facepiece. NFPA will continue to report the progress of these efforts on their web site.

As part of this safety alert and to address programs that can assist in the implementation of these recommendations, the NFPA referenced the IAFF Fire Ground Survival training program as a resource for fire fighter safety. For more information on the IAFF Fire Ground Survival training program, click here.   

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