Air systems for emergency responders

Originally published in:

Asia Pacific Fire 

by James Wong

The protection and preservation of life is paramount; this includes the safety of emergency services personnel, and the safety of community members including vulnerable community members and visitors/tourists within the incident area. The increase in urbanization has resulted in emergency responders facing increased challenges when potentially dealing with emergency incidents within complex structural environments.

Globally, there is evidence of G innovation and technology that supports enhancements to emergency responder safety; these enhancements relate to personal protective clothing and equipment, operational processes and procedures, as well as training. There is further evidence to support the benefits of the positive interaction and collaboration between the emergency services sector and the private industries involved in the construction, occupancy and maintenance of complex infrastructure. A successful example of innovation  and technology that enhances emergency responder safety is the Firefighter Air Replenishment System (FARS). This is  a collaborative system between the fire service and the building industry, and has been designed to solve the problem of air supply in complex environments. FARS is a standpipe for air permanently installed in a building. It is the fastest, safest, most efficient way to deliver air replenishment to firefighters in complex structures.


There are many hazards that Victorian emergency responders, and the Victorian community, face that provide some major challenges to emergency response. For example, multi storey environments, large horizontal box construction, transport  tunnel infrastructure {above and below ground), shipping and industry (eg. mining). FARS seeks to reduce the labour  intensity of having to manually transport CABA cylinders up numerous flights of  stairs or deep into structures and carrying  out empties for refilling. Instead, air is supplied into the complex environment,  and emergency responders can refill their CABA at fill stations strategically located throughout the structure. Most importantly, they can also do this under full respiration  (eg. in an emergency situation where
running out of air is a possibility) in less  than two minutes. This is the future of emergency  responder health and safety. In the  United States, ‘more than 500 buildings  in 10 states are now equipped with these systems, and they are required in more than 80 jurisdictions across the country. And  more cities are adding this requirement to their fire codes every year.


The focal point for research on FARS was  a two week tour in the United States of America (USA). This research provided  the opportunity to obtain a detailed understanding of the construction, application, operation and benefits of  FARS in jurisdictions throughout Arizona  (Phoenix, Scottsdale and Glendale),  Nevada (South Lake Tahoe and Reno), California (Sacramento, San Francisco,  The Bay Area and Oakland) and  Washington (Seattle and Renton). Hosted by Rescue Air Systems Inc.  (who provided a FARS technician for  direct interaction), premise inspections  were arranged and conducted on FARS installations from different occupancy  types; including hospitals, major global information technology industries, casinos, resorts (in the desert and in an alpine  ski area) and commercial structures. Predominantly, these occupancies were  of multi-story construction and were  a combination of new and retrofitted installations. The opportunity to work  directly with some USA fire departments  (eg. Phoenix Fire Department, Glendale Regional Public Safety Training Centre, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, Oakland Fire Department, Seattle Fire Department) also provided experience, networking and facilitated research towards other CABA related topics, such as air management practices, emergency rescue/intervention equipment and CABA training.

A balanced approach to the research resulted in a subsequent trip to Europe. FARS is still unknown within Europe and the aim of this tour was to investigate how European fire agencies were approaching air management within complex environments. This provided the opportunity to travel to Germany
(Frankfurt), United Kingdom (London) and France (Modane). A focal point for the European research was to investigate emergency response into sub-surface environments, such as road and rail transport tunnels.

The opportunity to work directly with some European fire departments (eg. Feuerwehr Frankfurt Am Main, London Fire Brigade and Savoie Sapeurs Pompiers) also provided experience, networking and facilitated research towards other CABA related topics, such as air management practices, emergency rescue/intervention equipment and CABA training.


With a high prioritisation on the safety of emergency responders and the community, there are vast opportunities to increase incident and emergency management efficiencies with the use  of air systems like FARS.

With conventional emergency response, firefighters must handle air replenishment in complex structural environments complex by manually transporting CABA cylinders up numerous flights of stairs or deep into a structure or ship to the crews engaged in fire attack and search and rescue; then shuttling the empty cylinders out of the structure to a mobile air appliance for refilling.  It is a labor-intensive process. For a complex structure fire, as many as half
of the firefighters on the scene would  be required to fullfil this task. This is an inefficient use of highly trained firefighters who could be deployed for operations like fire attack, search and rescue and evacuation.

An innovative approach to air management can provide:

  • An increased capability to save more lives
  • More efficient emergency access and response to an incident
  • More efficient utilization of resources
  • Reduction of logistical complexities for complex structural environments
  • Reduction of logistical complexities for complex structural environments
  • Interoperability between emergency services
  • Collaboration between public and private sectors
  • Can provide an opportunity for Victoria to demonstrate leading practise, both nationally and across Australasia, for emergency responder and community safety

Next steps …

With a real opportunity to be proactive, rather than reactive, continuing work will involve:

  • Bringing to the forefront the conversation around a modern approach to air management
  • Bringing to the forefront the conversation around a modern approach to air management
  • Increasing awareness of air systems for emergency responders, such as FARS
  • Promoting the benefits of FARS for enhancing emergency responder and community safety
  • Promoting the efficiencies that FARS can provide for emergency services agencies that utilise CABA
  • Challenging current response models and procedures to complex structural environments; to demonstrate a balanced approach to enhance emergency responder and community safety
  • Engagement with key emergency services stakeholders responsible for influencing positive change.


James Wong is a Senior Station Officer with the Country Fire Authority (CFA) in Victoria, Australia. He has been an operational career firefighter for 15 years, working at some of Victoria’s most active fire stations in the outer metropolitan suburbs south east of Melbourne. Since  July 2015, James has had an operational leadership role on the Victorian Respiratory Protection Replacement Project (RPRP); a project to replace obsolescent compressed air breathing apparatus (CABA) equipment across the Victorian emergency services sector. The RPRP will see new CABA that enhances interoperability amongst Victorian emergency services agencies (ie. fire, police, ambulance, corrections). James was awarded a Victorian Emergency Services Foundation (ESF) scholarship in 2016,  to explore the successful implementation of respiratory protection innovation and technology within complex structural environments. 

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