In St. Louis, firefighters and their families are dealing with losses attributed to equipment failures, according to a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch news story.
The manufacturers of Survivair's Personal Alert Safety System recently settled with the family of Robert Morrison for between $1 million and $5 million. Survivair's Sigma and Panther models have also been reported with problems in Aurora, Colo., and Stockton, Calif., according the Post-Dispatch.
For a firefighter, a self-contained breathing apparatus is among the most important pieces of equipment, said Capt. Jim Hailey, fire division commander for the Sikeston DPS.
"It's used daily," Hailey said. "The standard operation guideline is to use it in every working fire." The units are even used when working vehicle fires, Hailey added.
Personal alert safety systems are also indispensable tools, he said, and are required by the National Fire Protection Association.
"They're just as important as the SCBA," Hailey said. "We would not have a firefighting SCBA without a PASS on it. People's lives are too important."
He explained the units are designed to alert other firefighters in the event a firefighter goes down.
"Essentially, without movement for so long they go off and put out an alarm," Hailey said. "It's a high pitched alarm or beeping sound. They will not let you ignore them -- that's like ignoring a fire siren on a truck, something you can not ignore."
DPS uses combination SCBA/PASS units manufactured by International Safety Instruments Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga.
"They've been around for years and years and years," Hailey said. "This is our second set of packs from them. We've used ISIs I would say for about 18, 19 years."
The PASS units "are built into the ISIs," he said. "When the air is activated, the PASS activates. It's automatic."
Hailey said the ISI units haven't ever let a DPS firefighter down.
"Our ISIs have been very reliable. They're very good units," he said. "I don't know of any instance where the PASS has failed."
The ISI PASS units are very sensitive, Hailey said: "If you don't move a lot, it will go off."
Other major SCBA/PASS manufacturers include Scott Health and Safety and MSA.
"We've got some Scotts with the HAZMAT and Homeland Security Team," Hailey said. "When I started in 1982, Scott and MSA were about the only ones around. That was a long time before they had PASS systems -- they barely had warning bells for low air."
In selecting SCBA/PASS units for DPS firefighters, "it was a toss up between Scott and ISI," Hailey recalled. "We do a test and evaluation on different units before we buy."
DPS officials look for "something that's comfortable for them to wear and work in," Hailey said. "We already had ISI, so it came down to a training issue and a familiarity issue so we just stayed with ISI. It goes back to training. If you've been training for years on ISI, you are going to reach for those knobs that aren't there" if using an unfamiliar product.
Hailey said DPS Director Drew Juden "is very particular about the kind of equipment we get and insists it works before we go out and purchase it."
To date, DPS has never had to depend on a PASS alert to find a downed firefighter, according to the fire division chief.
"Part of that is the way we fight fires: we do not allow freelancing," Hailey said, although it is good to know the PASS units are there for them in the event a firefighter ever does go down.
"You may never have to use it, but it's worth its cost many times over," he said.