Firefighter’s Self Contained Breathing Appratus (SCBA): How it’s changed over the years


Welcome to another edition of “How it’s changed over the years.”

The firefighter’s SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) is as important a piece of equipment as his/her helmet.  The device, which consists today of a high pressure tank, face mask and pressure regulator allows firefighters to breath air in the hostile environments they face.


So how has the SCBA changed over the years?

The first documented use of an SCBA came as early as 1818 in a city outside London England. While trying to extinguish a barn fire a farmer used a helmet from a old suit of armor and hooked up a pump and hose to it which supplied air so he could breath while fighting the fire inside.

In the early years of firefighting respiratory protection was minimal.  Stories of firefighters growing long beards and then soaking them in water so they could bite down on them to breath were not uncommon.

It wasn’t until 1825 that someone attempted to make a mask that provided both heat protection and fresh air to firefighters.

Later in the 20th century, somewhere around World War II,  SCBA units took shape in the form of only a mask and an air canister.

mask with filter

Eventually a larger hose was added which led from the mask to another device worn on the firefighter.


This design went through several evolutions over the years.  But many of these early designs did not provide the wear with direct, clean air.  They simply tried to filter the air that the wearer was breathing in from around him.

mask with filter 2

The modern day SCBA featured a stainless steel air tank.  It wasn’t necessarily light weight but it got the job done.  These air packs provided the wearer with a continuous flow of air for up to 45 minutes.

Steel air pack

Carbon fiber air bottles lightened the load each firefighter had to carry on his/her back.

Screen shot 2009-09-29 at 1.32.24 PM

And now comes the latest technology which is being tested in California.  This SCBA is nothing more than a light weight back pack.


The new pack, which is being developed in conjunction with the U.S. government by the IAFF (International Association of Firefighters) is not only lighter but also doesn’t extend as far off a firefighter’s back, meaning there’s less chance of it becoming tangled on something.


Packs currently used by firefighters weigh up to thirty pounds.  The new packs being tested weigh in at only 8 pounds.

Screen shot 2009-09-29 at 2.37.38 PM

The prototype units which were developed by Sanders Industrial Design in cooperation with Vulcore Industrial of Fort Wayne, Indiana are currently undergoing testing by fire select departments around the country.

You can learn more about the IAFF project here.

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1 Comment on "Firefighter’s Self Contained Breathing Appratus (SCBA): How it’s changed over the years"

  1. Firefighter’s Self Contained Breathing Appratus (SCBA): How it’s changed over the years from @iNewsApp

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