Firefighters safety put at risk due to faulty respirators

The safety of firefighters state-wide has been put at risk by faulty breathing equipment which freezes up and potentially runs out of air in just 10 minutes.

A Blue Mountains firefighter told the Gazette firefighters were urgently notified by text and email last week confirming their concerns about the “MSA AirGo demand valve failure” and announcing the air sets would be replaced by a previously used and more expensive model (the Drager Self Contained Breathing Apparatus).

“Department bean counters picked a cheaper model than the previous one… it’s a many million dollar fillip,” he said.

MSA, an American company, was given a multi-year contract to supply, service and maintain 3,600 AirGo eXXtreme self-contained breathing apparatus for Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) in Australia in 2016. The contract was valued at approximately $4 million USD.

But firefighters have been reporting concerns with their self contained breathing apparatus which provide respiratory protection in life-threatening environments. 

A Fire Brigade Union official said “ultimately the safety of firefighters is paramount.”

This equipment has been deemed faulty by NSW firefighters.

This equipment has been deemed faulty by NSW firefighters.

“The union is working with the fire brigade to address the issue. They are trying to rectify the problem. The demand valve is freezing...There were some concerns about whether it was legitimate [worries over the valve failure]. The company tested it and recognised the problem.”

In the Fire and Rescue safety bulletin sent out to all NSW firefighters on September 4, it explained the risk involved.

“Moisture build up within the demand valve may freeze because of airflow, resulting in valve failure in the open position. The uncontrolled flow will rapidly deplete air supply, representing a safety risk to firefighters in hazardous atmospheres.”

A “staged rollout” of the Drager SCBA is now in process and they were to be used as the “primary response”.

FRNSW and the equipment manufacturer were continuing to investigate the risk, the safety bulletin said.

Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant issued the following statement to the Gazette when emailed a series of questions:

“Fire and Rescue NSW have acted swiftly to ensure the health and safety of all of their officers.

“They are working hard to identify any potential issues with the equipment, and develop solutions. This may include rectification or replacement of any affected equipment. In the meantime, alternative equipment is being made available. The welfare of all firefighters is absolutely paramount, and the agency remains ready to respond to any incidents.”