Firefighter Micah Chesher loads one of 54 new MSA air packs that were distributed to Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews at the Vancouver Island Emergency Response Academy on Labieux Road on Wednesday, Sept. 15. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Firefighter Micah Chesher loads one of 54 new MSA air packs that were distributed to Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews at the Vancouver Island Emergency Response Academy on Labieux Road on Wednesday, Sept. 15. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo’s firefighters take deep breaths with new air packs

Nanaimo Fire Rescue outfitted with new $600,000 self-contained breathing apparatus system

Nanaimo’s firefighters can breathe easier now that they’re equipped with new air packs.

The air packs, made by MSA, have replaced aging Scott air packs that have been in the fire department’s inventory for well over a decade.

Air packs, or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), allow firefighters to breathe and operate safely at emergency scenes where there is often smoke and other toxic emissions from fires or chemical spills that can cause death or injuries or trigger long-term health issues.

The SCBAs were distributed to fire crews Wednesday, Sept. 15.

“This equipment is probably the most important safety equipment a firefighter has,” said Geoff Whiting, Nanaimo Fire Rescue assistant chief of operations. “It allows them to go into buildings in dangerous atmospheres and protects their respiratory health from things like cancer.”

Whiting said the Scott air packs being replaced are now 10 to 15 years old and have been requiring more frequent repairs.

Marcel Syens, MSA B.C./Yukon senior territory sales manager, said the new air pack system has been operating in the field for about eight years and comes with a number of technological advancements, such as built-thermal imaging that allows firefighters to see in dark or smoke-filled environments, new warning systems and onboard computerization with the ability to have software and firmware upgraded in the field to keep pace with technological updates. The air packs can also communicate directly with other air packs on scene and relay information, including a variety of audible and visual alerts that indicate how much air is left in a cylinder or if a firefighter has become incapacitated.

“We’ve customized these to Nanaimo specs,” Syens said.

The new higher-pressure air cylinders also extend a firefighter’s working time to about 45 minutes from 30 minutes provided by the old system.

“They have improved communications, improved visibility,” Whiting said. “These are higher-pressure cylinders, so they also allow firefighters to stay a bit longer and they also provide a greater safety margin for firefighters.”

The city purchased 54 of the air pack units to outfit all of Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s front-line engines and backup apparatus. The purchase also includes 133 air cylinders, nine rapid intervention packs used in emergencies to rescue a downed firefighter, plus masks and mask accessories. Total cost, Whiting said, was about $600,000.

“It’s a big chunk at once, but we definitely needed it and, as well, we were changing to a different supplier of air packs, so we had to change the whole system at once,” Whiting said. “The life expectancy of these is 15 years and they’re warrantied for the full 15 years as well.”

Uniformity is a main reason for changing over the entire system.

“There’s, sort of, two tensions within the fire services,” Syens said. “There’s staying to the highest standard and then there’s keeping things uniform. Uniformity is really important in a fire hall, so that if a firefighter walks up and grabs a breathing apparatus and puts it on, it’s going to operate exactly the same.”



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Nanaimo firefighters prepare new MSA air packs for operation before putting them into service on fire trucks at the Vancouver Island Emergency Response Academy on Sept. 15. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo firefighters prepare new MSA air packs for operation before putting them into service on fire trucks at the Vancouver Island Emergency Response Academy on Sept. 15. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)