TULSA, Okla. None - After a Tulsa firefighter collapsed and nearly died inside a burning house, his equipment became a focus of the investigation into what happened, so KRMG decided to provide an in-depth look at the equipment firefighters use.
We met TFD firefighters Stan May and Tom Hufford, Jr. at Station 20 near E. 59th St. and S. Mingo Ave. for a demonstration of the equipment and to ask some questions.
May says Tulsa firefighters have to be able to don all of their protective equipment in 60 seconds or less in order to graduate from the academy.
The process literally begins from the ground up with the firefighter's boots and pants which are left sitting on the floor (see photo gallery) for instant access.
The coat comes next.
The clothing, including the pants, coat, and a protective hood, are made of fire-resistant Kevlar material and insulated as well.
May told KRMG the material can withstand temperatures approaching 1200 degrees F. for a brief time before burning.
Over the hood, the firefighter dons a mask which hooks into the self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA.
This is the equipment at the focus of the investigation into the injuries of Tulsa Firefighter James O'Neill, who collapsed while fighting an arson fire New Year's Eve.
O'Neil was not breathing and had no pulse when his fellow firefighters pulled him from the building.
May says he did still have his breathing equipment on when they pulled him out.
After a firefighter dons his helmet and breathing equipment, his company officer checks to ensure all skin is covered and all equipment is properly fitted and functional.
Tulsa firefighters' SCBA apparatus includes a valve in front which another firefighter can hook into so the pair can share a single oxygen tank.
Another valve on the backside, near the tanks, can be used to refill the tank.
Another important feature of the SCBA is its alarm system
When the tank is down to about five minutes worth of air, a loud bell, like an old telephone, sounds, alerting the firefighter.
"That bell starts going off, everybody in the room knows you're running out of air," May said.
Another system senses movement.
If the firefighter stops moving for longer than 15 seconds, the alarm goes off.
Every couple of seconds after it begins sounding, with the tones becoming more urgent and the volume increasing continuously.
As in the case of O'Neil, if a firefighter is overcome by fumes, or smoke, or collapses for any reason and becomes still, his fellow firefighters will be alerted by the sound of the alarm.
And fumes have become a much bigger problem for firefighters in recent years.
May told KRMG, "There are nearly twice as many BTUs in a square foot of modern household material than there was in the old style."
He said it's because of the synthetics now used for carpeting, furniture, draperies, et cetera.
"Thirty, forty years ago we didn't have an issue with that. Everything was wood and cloth and cotton. But now all the furniture's plastic," he said.
It remains unclear if O'Neil's injuries were due to malfunctioning equipment.
May says a firefighter's equipment is assigned to the individual, with the exception of the air tanks.
All of the breathing gear, the helmet, the coat and pants, all stay with the firefighter to whom they're issued.
We have posted photos of the gear and some of its special features in the photo gallery attached to this story.