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Welfare of breathing apparatus wearers

Research has established that heat-related conditions are the greatest single source of performance limitation and physiological threat to firefighters’ wellbeing when undertaking firefighting and search and rescue activities in a built environment.  The ability of BA wearers to make critical decisions and sound judgements based on risk assessment may also be affected by heat-related conditions. See Heat related conditions. BA wearer welfare, safety and effectiveness should be addressed before, during and post-deployment.

Wearing breathing apparatus and personal protective equipment restricts the body’s ability to regulate body temperature. This situation is exacerbated when the BA wearer is working in hot and humid conditions. Apart from general tiredness associated with fatigue in an operational environment, it could also result in:

  • Poor judgement
  • Reduced capacity for effective communication
  • Poor co-ordination
  • Reduced visual perception
  • Reduced vigilance
  • Slower reaction times
  • Lack of concentration

Incident commanders, anyone with delegated responsibility for BA wearer welfare and all BA wearers must be alert to the signs and symptoms of heat-related conditions. Recognising these signs and symptoms is part of the risk assessment process that helps determine whether a person is fit to be deployed in BA at an incident. In addition, all personnel have a responsibility to ensure that they arrive fit for duty.

Further research has shown that regular training in BA increases an individual’s ability to cope with the additional physiological demands that may be involved. However, the effects of heat-related conditions on an individual cannot be completely removed by training alone, and fire and rescue services should therefore adopt the following guidance.

Operational practice

Personnel have a responsibility to ensure that they are physiologically and psychologically fit to wear BA. The welfare of BA wearers should be addressed and appropriately resourced on every occasion that BA is deployed.

Where possible, firefighters selected as BA wearers should not carry out other functions requiring high levels of physiological effort, such as transporting equipment up stairs during high-rise incidents. If personnel have already worked with BA at an incident and are to be redeployed in BA, they should be given time to rest and recuperate.

Where possible, action should be taken to improve the working conditions of BA teams deployed in risk areas, for example, by using tactical ventilation or cooling techniques to reduce temperatures. See National Operational Guidance: Fires and firefighting.

Recognising the physiological load and psychological effects imposed on BA teams and their need for rest and recovery, plans should be made for relief BA teams. Incident commanders should be aware of the hazards associated with wearers being recommitted.

At an incident where BA operations are likely to be arduous or of long duration, establishing a rest and recovery area should be considered, supervised by a manager who will be responsible for managing rest, recuperation and refreshments for BA wearers. The rest and recovery area should be in a safe and suitable location that is clean, dry, cool and remote from the immediate scene of operations.

Where refreshments are provided for crews at hazardous materials incidents, eating and drinking is only permitted under the direction of the hazardous materials adviser or scientific adviser where available.

Appropriate health and safety recording systems must be maintained for BA wearers who have experienced heat-related illness and injury.

Incident commanders should consider the physiological and psychological effects that previous activities may have on an individual or team’s wellbeing and their ability to undertake their tasks safely when deployed to use BA.

Individuals should be aware of their own personal fluid requirements and consume adequate amounts of water throughout the day to remain hydrated.

Where possible, all BA team members should share tasks, roles and functions and, where appropriate, BA team leaders should consider team and task rotation. The designated BA team leader should always maintain a leadership role within the BA team.

All BA wearers should monitor team members for signs of heat-related conditions such as dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain or a burning sensation of the skin. Under such circumstances, the whole BA team should immediately withdraw from the risk area. See Heat related conditions.

Where appropriate and following a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, dressing down of personal protective equipment should take place away from the scene of operations to allow body heat to vent, reducing the physiological burden. This should be a standard pre- and post-deployment procedure.

To optimise recovery between BA deployments and maximise performance and safety before being redeployed, BA wearers should be given a period of time to rest and rehydrate. Table 1 (below) offers guidance on rest and rehydration periods; however, the time given should be based on the task undertaken, duration and conditions encountered by wearers.

Table 1:  Ideal rest and recovery procedures

Initial BA deployment conditions

Rest period

Water to be consumed

Ambient

30 minutes

500ml

Hot and humid

60 minutes

1,000ml

Particular attention should be given to firefighters who have been working in confined spaces with limited ventilation, such as basements or ships’ holds. If the work has been particularly arduous, recovery time should be extended.

Once the recovery period has elapsed or clearance has been given to leave the rest area, BA wearers should report to the incident, operations or sector commander for redeployment.

In addition to duties outlined in BA operational procedures – all incidents, the following responsibilities apply:

Role and responsibilities of the incident commander

The incident commander will:

  • Consider the physiological and psychological effects that previous activities may have on an individual or BA team’s wellbeing and their ability to safely undertake their task when deployed to use BA

Role and responsibilities of the BA entry control operative

The BA entry control operative will:

  • Acting on the instructions of the incident commander, restrict the length of exposure in difficult or strenuous conditions and determine an earlier time of exit from the risk area
  • Monitor BA team members for signs of heat-related conditions such as dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain or a burning sensation of the skin following their withdrawal from the risk area. See Heat related conditions

Role and responsibilities of the BA team leader

The BA team leader will:

  • Monitor working conditions and be aware of potential physiological effects that may cause a heat-related condition to team members
  • Monitor team members for signs of a heat related condition such as dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain, or a burning sensation of the skin See Heat related conditions
  • In the event of any of these symptoms being observed, initiate the immediate withdrawal of the whole team from the risk area

Role and responsibilities of the BA wearer

The BA wearer will:

  • Monitor themselves and other BA team members for signs of a heat-related condition such as dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain or a burning sensation of the skin See Heat related conditions
  • Inform the BA team leader should they display any of the symptoms of a heat-related condition