Blue Flower

Moving on to October 2018 issue of the "Firefighting" magazine… As usual, the series on fireground survival continues with a fifth article. The topic of the month is mask confidence, because after covering how to avoid running out of air a month before, and how to use your PPE to the full extent, it is time to talk about how not to rip the mask off when things go wrong.

Unnecessary mask removal continues to be a common thread in many LODD cases that we study in the NIOSH database. So in this article we discuss why it happens and how to prevent it. Russian text is downloadable below, and for my English-speaking folks I will provide the usual summary translation.

  1. Unnecessary mask removal due to panic, confusion or disorientation is a real problem and a cause for many lives of firefighters lost.
  2. As we have discussed in previous article, you should practice the only correct way of removing the mask when you exit IDLH atmosphere under normal circumstances –  get down on your knees, regulator off, helmet off, hood off, close SCBA tank valve, bleed air from regulator, shut down SCBA so that PASS alarm would not go off 30 seconds later, and only then remove the mask by loosening bottom straps and finally take off your gloves. If you allow yourself to rip the mask of when you exit, your brain will learn to associate ripping the mask off with safety and a breath of fresh air, and this is exactly what will kick in during a real emergency. Correct doffing procedure is the foundation for prevention of unnecessary mask removals during firefighter emergencies.
  3. The list of reasons for unnecessary mask removal in IDLH atmosphere during firefighter emergencies can be compiled by studying NIOSH LODD reports. Here is some of them: full air depletion, partial decrease of mask pressure due to imminent cylinder depletion, low air alarm activation (yes, just low air alarm activation!), over-breathing the SCBA due to incomplete cylinder valve opening, inadvertent closure of partially opened cylinder valve due to touching the walls and obstacles, sudden onset of zero visibility, sudden non-lethal increase in temperature, fall into the hole or down the stairs, panic due to disorientation or team separation, entanglement, vomiting, sudden onset of sickness, reaction to pain due to burns of exposed portions of skin, claustrophobia. You need to know all these mechanisms and how they can affect you so that you are prepared. Read NIOSH reports, that knowledge can save your life one day. If you think that all these things have happened to some amateurs while you know what you are doing, you a suffering from a deadly form of hubris, my friend. It can happen to any of us, and we all need to train all the time to reduce a chance of these scenarios.
  4. To prepare yourself for all these situations, you need to regularly go through a diverse mask confidence course. It should be done in full PPE and zero visibility in safe training environment (no IDLH atmosphere, full visibility to instructors, all segments of the course must be accessible to the instructors so that they can remove the regulator from the student’s mask in no more than 5 seconds and physically remove the student in no more than 1 minute. Mask confidence course should be modular so that the layout changes from one training session to another, otherwise students will just learn one particular layout instead of crawling through the unknown. The course should include all the standard elements (entanglement boxes, holes, narrow passages, first-floor windows, wall studs, floor joists). The course should be long enough so that most students can’t traverse it on one cylinder on their first attempt, but short enough so that most students can do it after some training. And yes, you can build such courses yourself out of scrap wood.
  5. When the student is unable to traverse the full course on one bottle, use it to his/her advantage by making him/her practice low air / out-of-air emergency procedures. Low air procedure: when low air alarm activates, if you know the way out and the exit is reasonably close, call “Mayday” and keep moving towards the exit while slowing your breathing down. If you don’t know the way out, call “Mayday”, stop moving, and start saving air by using the technique that I have described in the previous article. Out-of-air procedure (pressure in the mask is dropping): stop, check that cylinder valve is fully open, place gloved hand on the regulator, but do not remove the regulator yet, call “Mayday” while the remaining air still flows, open by-pass valve just in case the problem is with the regulator, if that didn’t help, remove the regulator, pull the bottom portion of the hood onto the mask opening and crawl on your belly towards the exit or the nearest windows. Bear in mind that the hood will only filter large particles and will not protect you from carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide or low oxygen. But at least the mask will protect your eyes from massive irritation that alone can render you helpless.
  6. All these measures are really last ditch effort, and you should rely primarily on prevention of out-of-air emergencies. The best prevention method is using the rule of three thirds that we have discussed in the prior article – use first third of tank pressure to get in, second third to get out, and keep the third one for unforeseen emergencies.
  7. One more scenario that has forced firefighters to rip the mask off and succumb to the products of combustion is sudden vomiting in the mask. Vomiting while wearing SCBA in IDLH conditions is a life-threatening situation and you need to be prepared to deal with it. Never respond to fires when sick, never overeat during the shift, start getting out as a whole team if you suddenly become even slightly sick, if vomiting in inevitable and imminent, close your eyes, briefly remove the regulator (on some masks with small opening you might have to lift the bottom of the mask instead), put your face down, vomit, replace the regulator, open by-pass valve to purge the regulator, and start getting out as a team, while trying to keep your eyes closed, if you can. If vomiting has already occurred, again, close your eyes first, remove the regulator to let the vomit exit the mask, then open the by-pass valve before replacing the regulator to clear it. N matter what happens, close your eyes first, as the stomach contents are acidic and will irritate your eyes to the point that you will become incapacitated and likely will rip the mask off.

If you understand Russian, you can either download and save a copy of the article in PDF format or you can view it right here on this page.

Download a copy of the article in PDF format