SCBA Facepiece Lenses May Fail, With Deadly Consequences
Facepiece lenses on Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) may undergo thermal degradation when exposed to intense heat, potentially further risking firefighters’ lives.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued a sa
fety alert stating that fire departments, fire academies and emergency service organizations should be inspecting all SCBA facepiece lenses 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,” states the association.
Kenneth Willette, division director of Public Fire Protection at the NFPA, says that SCBA facepiece lenses are generally based on polycarbonate and are considered “the weakest component of a firefighter’s ensemble in high-heat conditions.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found evidence of thermal degradation of facepiece lenses that may have contributed to three firefighters’ deaths between 2002 and 2011.
In addition to its recommendation that SCBA facepiece lenses showing evidence of exposure to intense heat be discarded and replaced, the NFPA advises that:
- Fire departments, fire training academies and emergency service organizations should review their training programs to ensure that the limitations of respiratory protection devices in high-temperature environments are considered.
- 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.
- 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 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 utilize 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.