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Breathing Apparatus operational procedures – all incidents

Breathing apparatus is worn at incidents to provide respiratory protection for firefighters working in oxygen-deficient, toxic and hazardous atmospheres.

The level of supervision required should be subject to the situation and circumstances of any incident. It should take the size and complexity of BA operations at the incident into consideration, along with the hazards and risks presented to BA wearers.

The guidance in this section should be followed on every occasion that BA is worn at an operational incident. Additional guidance relating to individual activities is described in later sections of this foundation document.

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Operational practice

BA must only be donned and removed in ‘safe air’. BA teams will consist of no less than two BA wearers. One BA team member should be a competent firefighter and all BA wearers must be trained in the use of BA.

The exception to the above is where a single BA wearer is deployed in a low-risk situation (as described in this foundation document) and supported by the local standard operational procedures and training of the individual fire and rescue service.

The BA team should normally remain as a team for the entire time they are deployed. However, in exceptional circumstances and following a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, the BA  team leader may decide to split a team of four into two teams of two for a specific task, such as the rescue of multiple casualties.

This decision should take account of the:

Any alteration to the size of the BA team(s), the initial briefing or the name(s) of the team leaders should be relayed immediately to the person responsible for the BA entry control point.

Role and responsibilities of the incident commander

When managing the use of BA, the incident commander is responsible for:

  • Determining, on the basis of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, whether BA is required to deal with the incident. Refer to National Operational Guidance: Incident command – Ineffective safety management
  • Ensuring that resources are sufficient to deal with the size and complexity of BA operations
  • Requesting suitable resource provision for additional BA teams, particularly where the need for BA emergency resources is foreseeable. Refer to National Operational Guidance: Incident command – Insufficient resources
  • Determining, on the basis of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, the appropriate procedures and level of BA command and control
  • Ensuring that all personnel are aware which BA entry control procedures are in use
  • Communicating the level of BA entry control procedures to fire and rescue control
  • Adopting any other appropriate safety precautions and personal protective equipment for specific risks (e.g. chemical-protective clothing) required in conjunction with BA
  • The siting and number of BA entry control points
  • Implementing BA entry control point support arrangements
  • Nominating and briefing, or specifically delegating the responsibility to a suitably qualified person to nominate and brief, a person responsible for establishing each BA entry control point to manage and monitor the implementation of BA entry control procedures
  • Communicating the location of all BA entry control points to the operations and/or sector commanders, all BA entry control operatives, the BA sector commander and command support
  • Nominating and briefing safety officers on their specific role requirements, including BA operations
  • Establishing and communicating responsibilities for suitable and sufficient briefing and debriefing of BA teams in accordance with the principles and procedures set out in this foundation
  • Ensuring that a structured and comprehensive handover takes place and all relevant information is transferred and understood when personnel responsible for managing a BA entry control point are replaced
  • Establishing suitable and sufficient systems and processes for logging and recording all relevant BA command and control information
  • Determining, applying and communicating the appropriate structural search procedures where appropriate
  • Assessing the need for, and authorising the use of, BA guidelines
  • Determining the need for BA line communications
  • Determining the need for and detailing the specific duties of the BA sector commander
  • Determining BA wearer welfare requirements and establishing suitable arrangements where a BA sector commander has not been appointed
  • Implementing the appropriate procedures in cases of BA wearer distress
  • Ensuring appropriate BA emergency arrangements
  • Appropriate provision of relief BA teams at BA entry control points in a timely fashion where a BA sector commander has not been appointed
  • Ensuring that each BA team is equipped with the means to communicate with the person responsible for the BA entry control point
  • Arrangements for communicating with the people responsible for the BA entry control points via the command structure
  • Ensuring that a single level of BA entry control is applied to the whole incident

Role and responsibilities of the BA entry control operative

The BA entry control operative will:

  • Set up the BA entry control board at the BA entry control point identified by the incident commander
  • Wear a BA entry control tabard for identification purposes
  • Ensure that the time on the BA entry control board clock is correct or amended
  • Synchronise the clocks of all entry control boards in use. Where clocks cannot be physically synchronised, the time difference should be noted and recorded accordingly
  • Annotate the BA entry control board with the following details:
    • The identity of the BA entry control point
    • The stage of the BA command and control procedure
    • The name and role of the BA entry control operative
    • The name and role of the person responsible for the BA entry control point
  • Designate call signs for BA teams in conjunction with the identity of the BA entry control point
  • Apply procedures for using related BA equipment (telemetry, etc.)
  • Inform all BA teams if it becomes necessary to move the BA entry control board
  • Receive the tallies of BA wearers and check that the names of the wearers and the cylinder pressures at the time of entering the risk area are correct
  • Enter the ‘time in’ on each tally
  • Record BA wearers’ entry and monitor their estimated air supply
  • Place each tally in a slot on the BA entry control board, ensuring that the tallies of each BA team appear together and are bracketed using a waterproof marker
  • Take into account any time elapsed since BA wearers entered the risk area by using automated BA entry control for rapid and/or initial deployment
  • Clearly identify on the BA entry control board that the BA team has communications equipment; ensure that radio channels are identified and equipment is tested before they enter the risk area
  • Where telemetry is not available, overwrite the BA set number or identifier on the BA entry control board with a waterproof marker
  • Where telemetry is not available, calculate the time at which the low pressure warning device will activate for each wearer, and enter the details on the BA entry control board. The time should be calculated using the method adopted by the relevant fire and rescue service
  • Note the location of teams in the column provided on the BA entry control board
  • Test communications equipment with the BA team, ensuring that the required radio channel is selected and locked if possible
  • In the absence of a BA communications operative, maintain communications with BA teams operating inside the risk area
  • In the absence of a BA communications operative, inform the person responsible for the BA entry control point should there be any unexplained breakdown in communications with BA teams
  • Advise BA wearers to withdraw from the risk area at a predetermined pressure gauge reading (if required)
  • When BA teams exit the risk area, remove their tallies from the BA entry control board and return them to the team members
  • Liaise (by radio, runner, etc.) with other BA entry control points, informing them of any BA wearers who leave the risk area via another BA entry control point and make arrangements for their tallies to be returned
  • Ensure that the person responsible for the BA entry control point is kept fully informed of all relevant developments and requirements related to wearing BA
  • At cross-border incidents, or incidents involving other emergency services, follow locally agreed procedures
  • At radiation incidents, record the personal dosimeter reading on entering and exiting the risk area. A permanent record of the exposure to radiation for each wearer should be made and passed to the incident commander at the end of the incident

Role and responsibilities of the BA team leader

The BA team leader will:

  • Ensure that the team is fully briefed by the person responsible for the BA entry control point before deployment to the risk area
  • Ensure appropriate firefighting equipment is provided and tested before entering the risk area where there is, or is likely to be, a fire or flammable atmosphere
  • Monitor working conditions, assess the potential physiological effects and the impact this may have on working duration (see Heat Related Conditions, Welfare of BA Wearers and National Operational Guidance: Incident command – Personal resilience 
  • Continually assess the level of risk and determine when to withdraw, based on those risk assessments (see National Operational Guidance: Incident command – Ineffective safety management
  • Co-ordinate gauge checks and ensure that every BA wearer returns to the BA entry control point before their low pressure warning device activates
  • Test communications equipment with the BA entry control operative or BA communications operative. Ensure that the required radio channel is selected and locked if possible
  • Provide regular updates to the BA entry control point operative on the progress of the team and any other information relevant to the incident commander, such as conditions, layout and hazards
  • Determine when a team of four may be split into two teams of two

The BA team leader is responsible for the conduct of the team in the risk area. The team leader should base decisions on:

  • Nature of tasks being performed
  • Training and experience gained from previous incidents
  • Information received by communications from outside the risk area
  • Sensory perception inside the risk area (e.g. noise, temperature)
  • Information from BA and associated equipment (e.g. gauges, whistles, alerts, thermal imaging cameras)
  • Information from other team members

Role and responsibilities of the BA wearer

The BA wearer will:

  • Be responsible for managing their own air at all times in accordance with their briefing
  • Ensure that they fully understand their brief, tasks and instructions, where and how they are required to enter the risk area, any identified hazards and any limitations on the duration of wear as determined by the person responsible for the BA entry control point
  • On instruction from the person responsible for the BA entry control point, start up the BA set, complete required apparatus pre-entry checks and proceed to the BA entry control point
  • Ensure an adequate face-fit seal is established in safe air
  • Hand the BA tally to the BA entry control operative before entering the risk area, ensuring the tally is placed in the BA entry control board with the ‘time in’ completed
  • Ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment is worn correctly
  • Test all firefighting equipment before entering the risk area where there is, or is likely to be, a fire or flammable atmosphere
  • Check cylinder contents immediately before entering the risk area. Calculate and select the required turn-around pressure in agreement with the person responsible for the BA entry control point and the BA team leader
  • Carry out safe movement and search and rescue techniques at all times, maintaining close personal contact
  • Perform safe and effective firefighting where there is, or is likely to be, a fire or flammable atmosphere
  • Monitor the pressure gauge and prompt other members of the team to monitor theirs when in the risk area
  • Monitor air consumption closely to enable safe withdrawal to the BA entry control point before the low pressure warning device activates
  • Carry out gauge checks more frequently when working hard
  • Maintain contact and regular verbal communication with the BA team leader and other members of the BA team. Update them on any relevant information, including hazards and landmarks
  • Work as part of a team, sharing workloads to maximise working duration
  • Memorise the route in and out of the risk area
  • Transmit and receive radio messages to the BA entry control point if required to do so by the BA team  leader
  • Constantly monitor conditions and re-evaluate risk, and inform the team leader of the need to withdraw if required
  • Inform the BA team leader of the pressure at which the BA team will need to start exiting the risk area
  • Immediately report to BA entry control point on exiting the risk area. Collect the BA tally from the BA entry control operative
  • Assist the team leader with debriefing as required, ensuring that any information that may be of use to subsequent teams entering the risk area, or to the incident commander, is communicated to the person responsible for the BA entry control point
  • If applicable, draw a basic plan (or use available plans) to identify the route, hazards and location of any casualties. Clearly mark areas that have been searched to assist subsequent BA teams

After wearing BA:

  • Ensure they, and other team members, are not suffering any effects of heat related conditions
  • Relax personal protective clothing following a suitable and sufficient risk assessment
  • Cool down and hydrate
  • Rest and recuperate

See Welfare of BA Wearers

  • Report any accidents, injuries or near-miss events in accordance with local fire and rescue service policies and procedures
  • As soon as possible after wearing BA, clean and wash hands to reduce the risk of contamination from the risk area. Avoid contact of BA or personal protective equipment with the skin and mouth
  • Ensure that apparatus is thoroughly cleaned, fitted with a fresh cylinder and tested as required. Any defects found during routine testing or during use must be reported according to fire and rescue service procedures