NFPA 1989-2019: Standard on Breathing Air Quality for Emergency Services Respiratory Protection

Respirators for firefighters that follow NFPA 1989-2019

The air that humans breathe isn’t entirely made up of oxygen. Most of the air we take in during long sighs or calming breaths is nitrogen. In fact, 78% of the atmosphere is made up of nitrogen and only 21 percent is oxygen. That’s not to say oxygen isn’t important. In order for a person to safely breathe, the minimum level of oxygen concentration needs to be 19.5%. Sometimes, however, hazardous situations force employees of emergency service organizations to enter spaces without this minimum level of oxygen. In these situations, the responders may rely on atmosphere-supplying respirators. To help with the protection of these individuals, NFPA 1989-2019: Standard on Breathing Air Quality for Emergency Services Respiratory Protection has been released.

A blazing fire may be immediately noticeable, but an unbreathable atmosphere can be less obvious. Breathable air is always important, especially in emergency situations. Firefighters and emergency service personnel count on that air in hazardous locations. NFPA 1989-2019 delves into this important subject matter.

What Happens When Oxygen Levels Are Low?

NFPA reports that when oxygen levels are at 21%, a person experiences normal outside air. At 17%, a person experiences impaired judgement and coordination. Headache, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue can be experienced at 12%. At 9%, a person might experience unconsciousness. At 6%, one might experience respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, or death.

What is an Atmosphere-Supplying Respirator?

According to NFPA, an atmosphere-supplying respirator is “a respirator that supplies the respirator user with breathing air from a source independent of the ambient atmosphere.” This includes self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and supplied air respirators (SAR).

What is the History of the Self-contained Breathing Apparatus?

There were many inventions that paved the way for the self-contained breathing apparatus. For example, in 1825, a device called the apparatus Aldini was tested. Essentially, this device was two masks, one made from asbestos and one made from iron, placed on top of each other. While the mask provided some level of protection from heat, it only delivered the small amount of breathable air that couldn’t escape from the mask to the wearer.

It wasn’t until 1918 that the first successful American SCBA was manufactured. It was called the Gibbs. There were other inventors and many other advances in this realm. The first version of the Air-Pak was invented in 1945 by Scott Aviation.

Two firefighters entering a building

What is the Standard on Breathing Air Quality for Emergency Services Respiratory Protection?

NFPA 1989-2019 provides guidelines for breathing air quality for emergency services organizations that use atmosphere-supplying respirators for the respiratory protection of their personnel. The guidelines provide information to emergency service organizations. It can be used for the breathing air quality component of their respiratory protection program. For fire departments, the standard denotes the guidelines for the breathing air quality component of the respiratory protection program in NFPA 1500.

It is important to note that the standard does not specify guidelines for medical grade oxygen. Also, it does not denote the guidelines for air quality for any other applications.

The first edition of NFPA 1989-2019 was released in 2002. Before that, three documents had included information about breathing air quality. NFPA 1989-2019 revises the 2013 edition of the same standard, so it has undergone some changes. They are:

  • Added a definition of cryogenic air.
  • This information in this standard “applies to atmosphere-supplying respirators that provide the breathing air supply from a compressed breathing air source or liquid cryogenic air source that is independent of the ambient atmosphere.”
  • Added a new figure to the annex to help with chain-of-custody procedures.

NFPA 1989-2019: Standard on Breathing Air Quality for Emergency Services Respiratory Protection is available on the ANSI Webstore.

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