The SCBA is a major expenditure for any department. As such, it should be given due diligence during the selection process. To make the right SCBA selection decision for your department, seriously consider taking a holistic approach, including soliciting top-to-bottom feedback throughout your organization.

Understanding Administrative and Financial Considerations

At the administrative level, the fire department should work closely with the finance department to understand any requirements that may guide the selection process. Understanding your municipality’s rules for expenditures will allow you to successfully navigate the purchasing process and align expectations from vendors to evaluators and any other administrators involved.

Assessing Departmental Needs and Regulatory/Standard Requirements

Once your department determines the parameters of the selection process, it is a good idea to reach out to various suppliers (find one near you) and talk with them about your department’s needs with respect to SCBA. Any reputable vendor will be up to speed on the latest guiding standards as they pertain to the requirements of SCBA. Keep in mind, there is a lot of research required from any department when selecting SCBA, as the technology and the standards generally evolve significantly over a given SCBA product life cycle.

When making the SCBA selection, it is also important to consider maintenance schedules and developing a plan for servicing and maintaining this major investment. Again, this is an area where vendor relationships matter. A solid equipment representative (find a representative near you) will be able to understand your department’s existing maintenance capabilities and work with you to develop a care and maintenance plan that is consistent with industry standards such as NFPA 1852, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).

Collecting Critical End User Feedback

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the selection process when choosing an SCBA for your department is to gather meaningful user feedback. End user hands-on evaluation and feedback are imperative parts of the SCBA selection process. The feedback process should be comprehensive and may include:

  • Ample chances for department members to objectively evaluate possible SCBA
  • Opportunities for your frontline firefighters and officers to train and work with any SCBA your department is considering for use
  • Specific situations involving the fireground; this could include setting up training environments to simulate the noise and various working conditions personnel will encounter

Additionally, with respect to care and maintenance experiences, you should reach out to other fire departments of similar size that may have recently acquired SCBA and solicit end user feedback with respect to street performance and maintenance. Sharing this knowledge can help with not only selection recommendations, but it can also be a great opportunity for best practice sharing about SCBA use and other equipment procedures.

The authenticity of this feedback will be paramount to a successful selection process. This gathered information should be one of the key factors in deciding which SCBA to move forward within the selection process.

Once the department has obtained sufficient feedback, the data, both qualitative and quantitative, should be compiled for review, preferably by a designated SCBA selection committee. With an expenditure of this magnitude, the decision-making process should not occur in a vacuum; buy-in and consensus should be derived from the administration to the frontline firefighters on the street.

The overall theme for successful evaluation and selection of an SCBA is dependent on new or existing processes, a sound plan as well as open dialogue and relationships throughout the entire selection process. If you are at a loss as to how to get started in the selection process, NFPA 1852: Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), Chapter 5, Section 1 contains an outline of a best-practice approach. Making these considerations a priority will help ensure that you and your team select the right SCBA for your department, keeping in mind that you are purchasing equipment to keep your members safe when they risk their lives to serve the citizens they are privileged to serve every single day. Keeping members safe with the equipment they can count on is of the utmost importance.