Air management drill Mayday Monday

This month, we dedicate the Mayday Monday to Firefighter Richard Sheltra of the Pineville-Morrow Volunteer Fire Department in Pineville, North Carolina. On April 30, 2015, firefighters were dispatched for fire in a strip mall. Upon arrival, they found smoke inside of a golf store in the strip shopping center. Firefighter Sheltra was the nozzleman on the initial hoseline. As they were attacking the fire, Sheltra began to run low on air. He was instructed to follow the hoseline out. He began to exit but became disoriented in the near-zero visibility and returned to his crew. A lieutenant was also running low so he and Sheltra turned to exit. As they followed the hose, they encountered display racks and other obstacles, which caused them to lose contact with the hose. Firefighter Sheltra disappeared into the smoke. A Mayday was sounded for a missing firefighter. Rescue crews located and removed Sheltra quickly but it was too late. The cause of death was “inhalation of products of combustion.”

Find the NIOSH report here.

The air supply in the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is designed to provide the user with an emergency reserve of one-third (or one-quarter in older models) of the volume. Firefighters need to manage their supply so they exit before the low-air alarm sounds. This may impact how long you can operate in the fire building. How can you make it last longer? Use less air. The SCBA is rated for a consumption rate of 40 liters per minute. By breathing at 30 liters per minute, you will increase the time it takes to get to the low-air alarm allowing you to work longer. Conversely, breathing at 100 liters per minute will drastically shorten the time you will be able to work. 

How long can you make a cylinder last before the low-air alarm sounds? Let’s go find out. This month’s skill/drill is to go for a walk. Start with a 3-mph or 20-minute-a-mile pace. With your gear on and SCBA in service, begin to time yourself when you start breathing off the bottle. Record the start time, the time the low-air alarm begins to sound and when you are out of air. Did you get 45-minutes out of a 45-minute cylinder? (This drill can be performed without wearing fire gear, if desired.)

Try other activities and compare to the walking test. Play basketball. Climb stairs. How do these tasks change your consumption rate?

Firefighters must understand how to manage their air supply. The best way to find out…PRACTICE!


Please send any pictures/videos of you and your crews performing the skill/drill  to [email protected].

Tony Carroll is deputy chief of operations with the Louisa County (VA) Fire & EMS Department.  


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