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Protect yourself, protect your firefighters

From The Editor

December 13, 2007 
By James Haley

I know how cumbersome, hot and weighty and sometimes uncomfortable – dare I say inconvenient – it can be, but wearing SCBA at pretty much any emergency incident can save your life. Not necessarily today but 10, 20 or 30 years from now. How many firefighters have died or gotten sick years after an event, or from the cumulative effects of many incidents? What about the Plastimat fire in Hamilton in the late 1990s? What about the rescuers and other workers at Ground Zero, even months after that fateful day in September five years ago – has it really been that long? Studies are showing now that the personnel exposed at those two examples will have their lives shortened, as a direct result of exposure to toxins in the air breathed.

Respiratory protection is paramount for any firefighter and your officers should pay attention to this. I remember working a fire where the firefighters were right on about wearing BAs, but there was an officer who, while carrying an air pack on his back, never had the mask any where near his face. And he was in and around the building, while toxic levels were no doubt high and even before that when the building was still smoking. Not a very good example for his troops. In fact, eventually another firefighter joined him – we’re a curious bunch – poking around also without a BA. Safety officers need to control this. I would guarantee that if a safety officer, well within his or her authority, would remove such an officer away from the fireground until the mask is donned, that officer would no doubt remember it for future incidents.

Even in investigative work after the fire is out one needs a BA. As Ivan Hansen explains in his feature about a fire investigation course he took: “Allen covered vehicle fires. These are highly toxic, so the vehicle should be ventilated for 24 hours, or SCBA used.” Now I can’t think of many fire departments that will wait 24 hours before starting their investigation, so wearing a BA it the only real option.

To this end, Pierre Voisine offers a plan for a respiratory protection program for your chief and your department – its importance, the laws and standards that support it, and the reasons why it is imperative to have one in place. It is not enough to get your compressor tested for air quality regularly (you do that don’t you?), or just to cycle your air bottles so the air doesn’t become stale. We only have one life, so let’s protect it as best we can, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for that half hour or 60 minutes – a little discomfort is worth it when it comes to your health and that of your brothers and sisters.


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