Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

BlackHawk Tactical Air Mask SCBA

A self contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, sometimes referred to as a Compressed Air Breathing Apparatus (CABA), air pack, or simply Breathing Apparatus (BA) is a device worn by rescue workers, firefighters, and others to provide breathable air in an IDLH (Immediate Danger to Life and Health) Atmosphere or any environment that is unknown or has unknown levels of contaminants.. When not used underwater, they are sometimes called industrial breathing sets. The term "self-contained" means that the breathing set is not dependent on a remote supply (e.g., through a long hose).

An SCBA typically has three main components: a high-pressure tank (e.g., 2200 psi to 4500 psi), a pressure regulator, and an inhalation connection (mouthpiece, mouth mask or face mask), connected together and mounted to a carrying frame.

There are two kinds of SCBA: open circuit and closed circuit.

The closed-circuit type filters, supplements, and recirculates exhaled gas: see rebreather for more information. It is used when a longer-duration supply of breathing gas is needed, such as in mine rescue and in long tunnels, and going through passages too narrow for a big open-circuit air cylinder.

Open-circuit industrial breathing sets are filled with filtered, compressed air, rather than pure oxygen. Typical open-circuit systems have two regulators; a first stage to reduce the pressure of air to allow it to be carried to the mask, and a second stage regulator to reduce it even further to a level just above standard atmospheric pressure. This air is then fed to the mask via either a demand valve (activating only on inhalation) or a continuous positive pressure valve (providing constant airflow to the mask). An open-circuit rescue or firefighter SCBA has a full-face mask, regulator, air cylinder, cylinder pressure gauge, and a harness with adjustable shoulder straps and waist belt which lets it be worn on the back.

The most common application of SCBA is called “Confined Space”. Other applications would be working with liquid spills or gas exposures that produce or could produce IDLH conditions. Examples of confined space include:

  • Tank or reactor entry for emergencies
  • Repair of gas lines or toxic chemical lines in trenches or pits
  • Emergencies in sewers
  • Emergencies in silos, storage tanks, pipelines
  • Emergencies in truck or rail tank cars
  • Emergencies in buildings where unknown gasses and vapours may exist
  • Emergencies with known liquids, gasses, vapours and particulate

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