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Withdrawal of breathing apparatus wearers

The decision on when to withdraw from a risk area is extremely important. The main aim is to ensure that all breathing apparatus teams return to the BA entry control point before the estimated activation of their low pressure warning devices.

Operational practice

The incident commander and BA team leader’s duties include ensuring that BA wearers are not exposed to an unacceptable level of risk. BA wearers are responsible for ensuring that BA team leaders are made aware of any relevant developments that might require an early withdrawal from the risk area.

The timing of withdrawal from a risk area must take into account:

  • The specific instructions of the incident commander
  • The potential for physiological and psychological stress or distress as a result of environmental conditions or workload, including high temperatures, humidity and casualty rescue
  • The physiological conditions or depth of penetration into the risk area, such as in tunnels, confined spaces or ships
  • A deteriorating situation such as fire growth or signs of collapse. National Operational Guidance: Fires in buildings
  • Any relocation of the BA entry control point

BA team leaders should not rely solely on pressure readings when reaching a decision on when to withdraw their team; they should take into account information received from all sources. BA team leaders must withdraw their team if any member:

  • Has an uncontrolled loss of pressure
  • Appears to be unwell, confused or in discomfort, especially when exposed to rapid temperature increase. See Heat related conditions
  • Has a gauge that is faulty or unreadable
  • Has been exposed to an irrespirable atmosphere due to BA failure
  • Has a low pressure warning device that is activating
  • Reaches the pressure gauge reading pre-determined by the person responsible for the BA entry control point
  • Has insufficient time for decontamination procedures to be carried out before the low pressure warning device activates

BA team leaders must also withdraw their team if:

  • An emergency evacuation signal sounds. National Operational Guidance: Incident command
  • There is a loss of firefighting media (where applicable)
  • The BA team experiences a sustained and unexpected loss of communications
  • Conditions in the risk area have deteriorated to the extent that BA team members are exposed to an unacceptable level of risk (following a risk assessment or on the advice of team members)

The BA entry control operative should immediately be informed of any decision to withdraw prematurely from a risk area. This decision should then be relayed to the incident, operations or sector commander.

BA teams should ensure that they have provision for firefighting or gas cooling where there is, or is likely to be, a fire or flammable atmosphere, as they make their way out of the risk area. Firefighting media may only be left in areas unaffected by fire or fire gases within a structure. However, BA teams may decide to leave other equipment in the hazard area to reduce the workload when withdrawing as long as this does not compromise the safety of the BA team or other teams in the hazard area.