Firefighter viewed from behind standing in front of fire truck

Officers Should Set the Tone When Inspecting SCBA

Each day the company officer sets the tone at the station whether intentionally or unintentionally. Everyone is influenced by the habits and behaviors of the officer. The officer always has a host of administrative duties to perform, whether it’s logging in the roster for the day, starting the log book, entering payroll information, logging training, or any number of other tasks.

Eyes are always on the officer and the most basic form of learning, imitation, is always at work. While words are critically important, the actions of the leader are ultimately the most powerful force. Albert Einstein once stated, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”

There are endless opportunities for the officer to set the example whether it’s through sound decision making, being competent at job skills or the way the officer deals with personalities and human factors just to name a few. One of the most important examples is the officer’s attitude towards safety. Firefighter safety is always considered everyone’s responsibility, but the attitude that the officer takes in regard to his/her personal safety and the safety of the crew is often displayed in some of what can be considered everyday routine tasks.

What the Process Should Look Like

It starts with the officer’s actions and routines during daily gear preparedness and equipment inspections. Upon arrival at the station and before shift change, the officer should have all their protective gear in place and set up ready for use. This includes turnout pants, coat, gloves, helmet, hood and webbing, and wire cutters. These items should not just be placed on the apparatus but should be positioned for quick access and donning.

Once this part of the ensemble is ready, the next step should be to inspect and test the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). This is arguably the most critical piece of equipment in the entire PPE loop. Whether you are at the busiest station or the slowest station, these operational tests must take place.

When the officer arrives at the station and immediately focuses on other tasks and postpones his/her own state of readiness, it not only places the officer at risk but compromises the entire crew’s readiness and ability to serve the public. If this becomes the standard daily practice, then a normalization of deviance occurs while unit readiness and personal equipment readiness become a low priority. All this has the potential to create failure and compromise safety stemming from the simple inaction of the officer.

No matter the type or frequency of the task, it is important that the officers perform these tasks with a level of expertise that displays competency. Too often, a leader going through the motions or checking the boxes on the list becomes an example followed by others. If the officer goes through the motions but skips critical steps or doesn’t fully understand at the highest level how and why to complete these tasks, then a bad example will be mimicked and the same normalization of deviance and compromise of safety will occur. The following list details the critical steps the leader must take to ensure the specific equipment is functional while displaying a high level of competence.

SCBA Equipment Check

The pre-shift SCBA equipment check must be full service and not stop at a quick glance verifying its existence on the apparatus. The steps for this check are as follows:

  • Visually inspect the unit for proper cleanliness and assembly
  • Make sure all harness straps are fully loosened
  • Check the air pressure on the cylinder (if it’s not full, change it)
  • Make sure the donning switch on the regulator is activated
  • Make sure the purge knob on the regulator is closed
  • Open the cylinder valve completely, allowing the system to charge
  • Allow the PASS pre-alarm to activate and reset by rocking the lower end of the unit
  • Visually inspect the facepiece and ensure harness straps are loosened

Then you should also:

  • Check the chest-mounted gauge for proper representation of cylinder pressure
  • Connect the facepiece to the regulator
  • Operate the emergency bypass or purge to ensure air flow is present
  • Don the facepiece and take a breath to activate the flow of air
  • Activate the donning switch to stop the air flow
  • Remove the facepiece and detach it from the regulator
  • Close the cylinder valve
  • Bleed the system down slowly by using the emergency bypass or purge, while watching the pressure gauge on the console and listening for the end of service time indicator (EOSTI) to activate at approximately 1/3 of the SCBA rated pressure

Additionally, you should make sure that you:

  • Allow the PASS pre-alarm to activate and cycle into full PASS alarm
  • Reset the PASS by pressing the yellow reset button twice
  • Manually activate the PASS alarm via the red button
  • Reset the PASS by pressing the yellow reset button twice
  • Check the UAC and EBSS hoseNow that you are confident your SCBA is full of air and operational, it is time to check your thermal imager.

Thermal Imager

It is common for units that only carry one thermal imager to assign that imager to the officer because this is another critical piece of equipment in the ensemble. A proper check of the thermal imager should include:

  • Visual inspection of the unit for cleanliness and lens obstructions
  • Power the unit on
  • Check battery indicator for full charge (change if below full charge)
  • View screen for proper contrast and test on a known warm object
  • Check spare battery charge level and location


You should never assume and always personally confirm the proper readiness of your personal equipment, modeling the behavior you want to see in others. Taking care of these vital parts of your PPE ensemble before shift change sends a strong message to others of the importance you place on your personal responsibility for your safety. It also demonstrates your competence as related to your personal protective equipment. For help selecting SCBA and other fire safety PPE, please reach out to our health and safety specialists for assistance today.