July 2, 2012 -- The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) today issued a safety alert on Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) facepiece lenses. Among other things, NFPA is recommending that fire departments, fire academies, and emergency service organizations inspect 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.
The alert comes after investigations and additional research found SCBA facepiece lenses may undergo thermal degradation when exposed to intense heat. The full alert and recommendations can be found at www.nfpa.org/scba.
“SCBA is a critical component in the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by today’s fire service. This equipment is essential for allowing firefighters to operate in hostile fire ground environments. However, in recent decades there have been significant changes in the environments encountered by structural firefighters and in how they operate in those environments,” said Kenneth Willette, division director of Public Fire Protection at NFPA. “The SCBA facepiece lens is generally based on polycarbonate. The SCBA facepiece lens is often considered the weakest component of a firefighter’s ensemble in high heat conditions, but the level of thermal performance of the facepiece lens has not been well understood."
During the investigation of firefighter fatalities that occurred from 2002 to 2011, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found evidence of thermal degradation of facepiece lenses that may have been a contributing factor in three fatalities. NIOSH also reported on the investigation of three SCBA from a state training academy where the SCBA facepiece lens showed evidence of thermal degradation after being used in live fire training. Additionally, in four other NIOSH Line of Duty Death Investigations, the evidence, while not conclusive was suggestive of possible SCBA degradation or failure.
The concerns with facepiece lenses identified in the NIOSH investigations were brought to the attention of the NFPA Technical Committee on Respiratory Protection Equipment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the NIOSH Division of Safety Research, Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.
In addition, in 2010 NIST, NIOSH, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) and NFPA jointly hosted a research planning workshop on evaluating and addressing the concerns regarding the thermal impact of SCBA facepiece lenses. With support and funding from the Department of Homeland Security and US Fire Administration, NIST studied the conditions that may be encountered by fire fighters and the effects of those conditions on SCBA facepiece lenses. Subsequently, NIST developed and provided new testing and performance methodologies to the NFPA Technical Committee on Respiratory Protection Equipment. Based on the information learned from the NIOSH investigations and NIST research, this Technical Committee is in the process of incorporating new test methods and performance criteria for facepiece lenses into the proposed 2013 edition of NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Service which is slated for completion and issuance as early as the Fall of 2012. Information on the continuing development of this new edition is available at http://www.nfpa.org/1981next.
About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
NFPA is a worldwide leader in fire, electrical, building, and life safety. The mission of the international nonprofit organization founded in 1896 is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.
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