Do you know what this acronym stands for? No? Me either. Just kidding. Clearly, I’ve done some research, and so have you if you’ve made it to this blog. Let’s pretend you’ve just started your search and review some of the basics. SCBA stands for:
S – Self
C – Contained
B – Breathing
A – Apparatus
Isn’t SCBA the same as SCUBA?
No, it’s not SCUBA. This a good comparison – but not correct. SCUBA is a Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. On land, SCBAs are primarily used for firefighting or mining. They can also protect the user from dust, gases, vapor, and unsafe air quality. At All Florida Fire, our vessel fire suppression system technicians use them when working with dangerous chemicals in boat compartments.
A person wearing SCBA carries a cylinder (a.k.a. tank) filled with compressed oxygen. When they breathe in oxygen, they exhale carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is absorbed in a canister and more oxygen is supplied.
These are SCBA tanks at our shop, All Florida Fire Equipment Company, waiting to be hydro testing. You may notice that they appear similar in shape to a SCUBA tank. However, the bottoms are rounded because these tanks will be carried, instead of flat like SCUBA tanks. If you look very closely, you can see the Department of Transportation information on the cylinder.
Now that you know what SCBA is, what is hydrotesting?
Hydrotesting is an abbreviated form of the phrase “hydrostatic testing.” Hydrotesting uses water to test the internal integrity of a cylinder. The basic operations of a hydrotest machine attach an empty, clean cylinder to the top lid of the machine via a wench and appropriate valve fitting.
Then the tank is submerged and filled with pressurized water. The machine on the right uses a variety of water tubes and gauges to measure how much water was displaced initially, during the pressurization, and after depressurization. The technician operating the machine is required to adhere to strict documentation procedures of each portion of the test. The cylinder is expected to expand to a certain amount, but if it exceeds the allowable amount or does not return to the initial amount the cylinder does not pass and shall be condemned.
Finally, the technician documents the outcome. If the SCBA cylinder passes its hydrostatic test it is requalified for use and marked with the date of the testing.
When do SCBA tanks need hydrotesting?
This is a great question. Just like any cylinder housing pressurized gases, SCBA tank testing specification vary. However, they are all marked by the DOT for ease of use. Wrapped tanks have a label applied near the top of the cylinder. Metal tanks have a date stamped into the top of the cylinder. Each type of tank has different requirements.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires that cylinders housing compressed gases be hydrostatically tested at certain intervals. A good rule of thumb is:
Carbon fiber cylinders – tested every five years
Kevlar-wrapped cylinders – tested every three years
Fiberglass-wrapped cylinders – tested every three years
Hoop-wrapped cylinders – tested every three years
However, if you are unfamiliar with DOT markings – it may be difficult to determine on your own. You can see our blog for hydrostatic testing – which explains the basics of cylinder hydrotesting and includes visuals. You can also call us and speak to an associate who will help you determine if your cylinder needs hydrotesting. If you are not in the greater Tampa Bay, you can use the DOT website to search for a licensed hydrostatic testing facility. You could also call your local fire station to see where they have their tanks retested.
Why do SCBA tanks need hydrotesting?
The reason this is done is to ensure safety. You wouldn’t want a fire extinguisher, SCBA cylinder or paintball cylinder to explode while you’re using it. Conversely, but not as exciting – you wouldn’t want it to leak slowly and surprise you when you run out of oxygen in a dangerous place or go to extinguish a fire. Hydrostatic testing ensures SCBA cylinder and user safety in case of an emergency.
Where can I get SCBA tanks hydrotested?
If you live in Pinellas County or the surrounding area, you’re in luck. You can bring your SCBA tanks to All Florida Fire. We are one of the largest DOT approved hydrostatic testing facilities in the Tampa Bay area. Our customers range from fire departments to the U.S. Navy. We also hydrostatically test many other types of cylinders as well. We have a two week turn around time on hydrostatic testing. However, if you have a large amount of SCBA cylinders or a rush, call our office and so that we can plan to accommodate you. If you are further away, visit the DOT website to find an approved facility near you.