Utah firefighters praise new breathing apparatus

By Dana Rimington
The Salt Lake Tribune
Copyright 2007 The Salt Lake Tribune
All Rights Reserved

LAYTON, Utah — Fighting a fire wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus is quite a challenge.

The mask covers so much of the face that it makes firefighters feel confined and even changes the pressure in their lungs, according to Layton fire officials.

So the $176,000 that firefighters in the Davis County city received to get new breathing apparatuses is being greeted as a breath of fresh air - literally. The new units will allow them to fight fires for up to one hour without running out of oxygen.

"We feel really fortunate and humble to get the money since it is a pretty competitive process and a lot of other departments are in need, too," said Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward.

The grant comes in the wake of the 2000 death of a Layton firefighter who ran out of air after he became separated from the group while battling a house fire. Dozens of city firefighters remember the tragedy and therefore welcome the grant from the U.S. Fire Administration.

The mask "completely changes your mind frame once you put it on," said Layton Fire Capt. Deon Santisteven. "With the smoke and heat enveloping your entire body, it makes you feel even more confined and the pressure on you becomes intense, combined with the stress of the situation and the danger and unpredictably of every fire."

Santisteven, a 15-year veteran with the department, says danger is an inherent part of the job but the new air packs will help keep them safer.

"The one-hour bottles will give us a little more time and safety in the event of getting lost or trapped," Santisteven said.

Firefighters say the packs will be especially helpful while battling blazes in large buildings. An alarm usually signals them when their air is running low, which works most of the time. But the risk of running out of oxygen increases for firefighters with the size of the building they are trying to save.

Layton fire officials plan to purchase the new equipment within six months. They also will spend a month training with the new masks before using them to fight an actual fire. Firefighters say the breathing apparatuses are part of the new technology that is fast becoming available in the fire industry.

"It is hard to not have it when there is something out there to make our jobs easier to save other people's lives," Santisteven said.

The Layton Fire Department currently has 85 people serving in three stations in the city. Past grants the department has received have gone to upgrade communication equipment, provide education programs in schools and make seismic changes to its Fort Lane station. 
Captain Deon Santisteven of the Layton City Fire Department checks the amount of air left in his self-contained breathing apparatus. Currently the fire department uses canisters that hold up to 30 minutes of air. The department has received a $176,000 grant from the U.S. Fire Administration to upgrade to canisters that hold up to 60 minutes of air.

Deon Santisteven of the Layton City Fire Department fills up a self-contained breathing apparatus using the mobile air unit the department acquired a couple of years ago.

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