By John Anderson

The acronym SCUBA is familiar to most people, but the meaning may be lost to many – Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Firefighters rely on a similar product for their survival in hostile conditions like a structure fire or chemical spill, SCBA – Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus. “Bottles” are filled with filtered compressed air, not oxygen, and they allow firefighters to breath clean air while they perform search, rescue, and fire suppression operations.

On the left is a Scott 4.5 SCBA currently in use in Auburn, a new 5.5 model is on the right.

On the left is a Scott 4.5 SCBA currently in use in Auburn, a new 5.5 model is on the right.

 

Some of the equipment that the Auburn Fire Rescue Department uses is 20 or more years old, but that will be changing in 3-4 months as new SCBA’s are delivered courtesy of an Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal government will be picking up $327,071 and the Town of Auburn will contribute $17,000.

Fire Chief Stephen Coleman announced the grant at Monday night’s Selectman’s Meeting and publicly acknowledged his grant writing team: Lt. Justin Brigham, Firefighter/Paramedic Eric Krupski and Firefighter/Paramedic Ovidiu Ticlea. They used every word in the 2,500-word narrative to explain Auburn’s need, and they got the message across. 11 previous grants had been denied.

This hose and connector is stored in a belt pack on all the new SCBA's. When two firefighters connect up, they can breathe from the same tank.

This hose and connector is stored in a belt pack on all the new SCBA’s. When two firefighters connect up, they can breathe from the same tank.

 

In the last three months, 463 AFG Grants have been awarded, 17 in Massachusetts. Auburn’s is the largest in the state and one of the largest nation-wide. FEMA’s grant programs are one of the positive things to come out of the 911 attacks in 2001. FEMA realized the need to help keep local emergency services better prepared and has assisted fire departments across the country in this endeavor.

AFRD’s SCBA’s were due to be replaced in the FY2016 capital budget, but this was long overdue. The urgency was further driven by new standards enacted by the National Fire Protection Association in March of this year. Prior to this new standard, SCBA’s were only rated to 500ºF while protective clothing was rated at 800ºF. Potentially, a firefighter could be advancing in a fire and not feeling the heat while his air supply was about to fail. Now both have an 800ºF requirement.

The new standards have driven up the price to about $7,000 per pack. When AFRD last bought an SCBA in 2007, the cost was around $4,000. Auburn has relied on equipment from Scott Safety for over 25 years, and they lead the industry in design and function. All current SCBA’s have a 4500psi air bottle that is rated with a 30 minute breathing time. The level of exertion as well as the size and physical condition of the user also factor into how long the air supply will work.

AFRD's aging air compressor sits at the back of the Drury Sq. station. It was installed in 1989, and the center fill section no longer works.

AFRD’s aging air compressor sits at the back of the Drury Sq. station. It was installed in 1989, and the center fill section no longer works.

 

38 packs, model X3, are now on order. Each comes with a 45-minute/5500psi air bottle, a spare bottle, and a voice amplifier in the face piece for better communication. Each pack also has a hose which can be connected to another SCBA so two firefighters can “buddy breathe” in a crisis situation.

2 Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) packs will also be purchased to replace those currently in use. They have a one-hour bottle and are used when a firefighter is trapped and needs extended air for a rescue. Additionally, the 1989 air compressor used to fill the bottles will be replaced.

This is a great accomplishment for the department, will save taxpayers money for five years, and gives our brave firefighters better tools to work and survive with.