Response Equipment: What's the history behind Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)?


Emergency service folklore recounts the practice of firefighters growing long beards to help them breathe in smoke. The thinking was that they would dip the beard in a bucket of water, then clinch the wet beard between their teeth and breathe through their mouth, using the wet beard as a filter.

Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

A self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or simply breathing apparatus (BA), is a device worn by rescue workers, firefighters, mine rescuers and others to provide breathable air in an immediate danger to life emergency response. The term self-contained means that the breathing set is not dependent on a remote supply. An SCBA typically has three main components: a high-pressure tank, a pressure regulator, and an inhalation connection, connected together and mounted to a carrying frame

Early Years

Early firefighters had to face not only fire and the effects of heat with little or no water supply, but also the debilitating effects of smoke with nothing at all to protect them. Historically firefighters where often referred to as smoke eaters, but over the past five decades the introduction of and improvements to SCBA have ensured that the name has become just that, a name.

As a practical answer to over coming the difficulties of breathing smoke, many seemingly strange and unusual inventions were tried. One of the earliest recorded attempts was in France, where the Apparatus Aldini was tested in 1825. This was a thick mask of asbestos worn over the head. Another mask made of woven iron wire was placed over the first.

In 1824, a miner named John Roberts came up with a smoke respirator or hood, that would allow a person to enter a dense smoke condition without any danger. Various types of filter masks were developed and used by firemen in Europe and the United States.

Further Development

Toward the end of World War II, Scott Aviation was manufacturing breathing equipment that allowed air crews to operate at extreme altitudes. One story goes that a number of Scott engineers watched a smoky fire being fought in a neighbouring building. They were amazed that the firefighters had to operate in such a severe smoke condition so they decided to see if they could adapt their equipment to suit firefighting. Working with the Boston and New York City fire departments, Scott introduced the AirPac in late 1945 after a year of field testing.

Today and Tomorrow

SCBAs weigh much less than the early models but still have an air supply secured to the firefighter's back with shoulder straps and a waist belt. The air bottles are being made out of a composite material that can sustain high pressures. SCBA manufacturers continue to design and produce new ways to improve firefighter safety. Some of the future standards may include the following: increased thermal performance standards because materials burn hotter, heat sensors located in various locations throughout the turnout gear, and global positioning systems (GPS) integrated into the SCBA for better firefighter accountability.

We're always interested in anything that helps in improving your response capabilities. Being able to comprehensively record your response equipment is one of the reasons [D4H]™ Technologies was created.

Robert Charles

[D4H] Technologies

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