A clean breathable air supply is a firefighter’s most vital lifeline during emergency operations in the field, making self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) compressed air cylinders a critical piece of personal protective equipment.


(SCBAs) compressed air cylinders, if damaged, can fail catastrophically at the valve or the cylinder body when under pressure or when being filled. Catastrophic failures can result in serious injury to firefighters due to the cylinder becoming a projectile. There may also be a sound pressure wave that can damage hearing or internal organs. Such failures have been known to damage or demolish fire service vehicles, buildings or fill-stations.

Actions for employers

Employers should:

  • conduct a risk assessment of their (SCBAs) compressed air cylinder handling and storage procedures in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative
  • develop procedures to prevent damage to (SCBAs) compressed air cylinders during normal job functions

Safety during transport

(SCBAs) carried in the cab of the fire apparatus must be secured in place by positive mechanical means or stored in closed compartments with positive latching doors.

(SCBAs), whether empty or full, should be secured to prevent cylinder chaffing, unwanted movement and damaging impact, or contact with chemicals (such as corrosive acids and hydroxides).

Storage in the station or on fire apparatus parked in the station

(SCBAs) must:

  • have a valve connection that prevents an inadvertent connection which would result in a hazardous mixture of gases
  • be secured in position during transportation, storage or use
  • have the valve protection cap in position when the cylinder is not in use
  • be protected from physical damage

Protection from physical damage may include the prevention of a fall to a hard surface, damaging contact with other equipment or vehicle doors, or contact with chemicals that may cause physical damage.

Protection from chemical contamination

Certain chemicals that can be found in the fire station (such as strong alkaline solutions) are extremely corrosive to the composite materials used to make (SCBAs) compressed air cylinders. Chemical contact with the cylinder can lead to its catastrophic failure.

(SCBAs) should be:

  • protected against chemical damage and kept as clean as possible
  • properly handled, inspected and cleaned after use to prevent chemical contamination

Valve protection

The valve protection cap will prevent contaminants from entering the open connection and potentially contaminating the air supply or damaging the (SCBAs) regulator. The valve protection cap should be left in place whenever the cylinder is not in use.

Air cylinder fill stations

Fill stations should:

  • be capable of containing a catastrophic failure during refill of the cylinder
  • be used only as instructed by the manufacturer

Visual inspection

(SCBAs) compressed air cylinders should be:

  • visually inspected before they are filled and after every use to determine if there is visible damage to the cylinder or valve assembly
  • immediately removed from service and sent for inspection and testing if there is damage noted that exceeds the manufacturer’s recommendations as acceptable
  • used on a rotational basis such that all of them are used on a regular basis
  • emptied and refilled with compressed breathable air when unused for 12 months

Other requirements

Consider other legislation which may apply to (SCBAs) compressed air cylinders, such as the Federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (TDGR), under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.

Applicable regulations and acts


Applicable standards

For standards on the purity of compressed breathing air and for breathing air systems required to produce, store and distribute such air, read CSA Z180.1- Compressed breathing air and systems

For standards on the handling and filling of cylinders, read CSA B340 - Selection and use of cylinders, spheres, tubes, and other containers for the transportation of dangerous goods, class 2


Read firefighters guidance note Guidance note 4-9 Respiratory protection program