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ging up. As he took his gloved hand to wipe the lens clear so he could
see the path to fresh air, he realized that the “fog” was actually the face
piece cracking and breaking because of the thermal insult. In fact, the
plastic lens material was sticking to his glove, allowing the superheated
atmosphere to enter his face piece through the hole caused by the
excessive heat. By the grace of God and keeping his hand on the compromised lens to help create a seal, he was able to survive.
This brave firefighter’s hospital stay was a total of 49 days. Once
released from hospital care, extensive physical therapy would follow
for months. After more than seven months being temporarily disabled by burn injuries, the firefighter was able to return to light duty.
Soon after, he made a nearly full recovery and return to the operations division that he loved.
This incident was one of several that was closely reviewed to
bring about performance improvements of the SCBA face piece.
The weakest link in the PPE and SCBA must be the firefighter
inside. This was not the case on the night in northeast Washington,
DC. The updated SCBA standard requires face pieces to withstand
a minimum of 500°F temperatures for a minimum of five minutes
Simply put, firefighters entering the hazard zone must wear and
use all the necessary personal protective and respiratory protec-
tion equipment to perform the work at hand. This comment is
made at just about every firefighter safety symposium. It is good
advice and, of course, the life that the PPE and SBCA will likely
save will be yours.
I hope that no one is injured in the performance of their duties.
Finally, I hope that no fire chief has to visit a burn unit to help
with the results of human destruction that could be so easily
Remember to always wear your face piece and your entire set of
PPE in the hazard zone. There are no exceptions. There are no
excuses. Only Hollywood actors can get away with not wearing all
their protective equipment and not getting hurt. If a senior member
attempts entry without the “right stuff,” please take the time to
respectfully remind that person to “turn out and pack up!”
1. I had left the service of the District of Columbia on January 3, 2011. I was no
longer a part of the department at this time.
2. Candidate physical ability test (CPAT) includes face piece testing as part of
3. Chart 1 is a sample training schedule that should be considered for adoption.
Dennis L. Rubin is the principal partner in the fire protection consulting firm D.L.
Rubin & Associates. He has served more than 35 years in the fire and rescue
service. He hosted the “Wingspread IV and V” conferences in 1996 and 2006. He
is a field instructor with the University of Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute and an
associate instructor with the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and
Rio Salado Community College in Mesa, Arizona. He has been an adjunct faculty
member of the National Fire Academy since 1983. He is the author of Rube’s Rules
for Leadership and D.C. FIRE (Fire Engineering).