Check yours out

Published:  21 March, 2016

Grave defects have been found in the BA equipment of Spain’s CBRN specialists – but how deep does the problem go? George Potter reports from Madrid, Spain.

The Spanish semi-military police force Guardia Civil has for several years operated teams of explosive deactivation and CBRN incident specialists. These teams have been equipped with sophisticated PPE including self contained breathing apparatus and maximum-protection level chemical incident intervention suits for use in a wide array of emergency situations. They have also been provided with highly explosion-resistant ensembles for deactivation of explosives.

Recent Spanish legislation requires that certified personnel employed by specialist accredited entities are the only people who can carry out the maintenance operations on SCBA, including periodic inspections and component replacement. Routine maintenance of the protective suits however, can be performed by the user.

According to national newspapers, after having received several complaints from members of the specialist intervention teams, Guardia Civil headquarters ordered a general revision of all of their PPE - over 420 sets. These revisions found exceedingly grave faults in a great amount of the equipment, including empty air bottles, bottles containing contaminated air, rust on numerous components and many other defects.

Photo: Guardia Civil

The situation was considered serious enough to warrant a complete inspection to be performed by an independent entity, which confirmed the deficiencies and defects. Guardia Civil leaders have presented the case to the public prosecutor's office in anticipation of possible criminal action against the company contracted to perform the revision and maintenance of the equipment.

As a result, the suppliers of the equipment have also been questioned, and their responses were that all of the equipment was in perfect order when delivered. These providers are well known and respected international companies, and have always been considered as reliable and responsible.

A second round of questioning and on-site inspections of the maintenance contractor uncovered numerous deficiencies in material and equipment belonging to the Guardia Civil in the firm's own workshop. This has led to the initiation of judicial actions against this contractor, reported widely in February this year.

All of the equipment has been retired from use, leaving the specialists ‘in diapers’ so to speak. Guardia Civil officers are concerned as to how these specialists would be able to respond to CBRN incidents, especially possible terrorism actions while the equipment is out of service.

According to sources, the Guardia Civil has accused the contractor of fraud, negligence, misrepresentation, falsifying public documents and, above all, of exposing the members of the emergency teams to serious and possibly deadly consequences.

The outsourcing of maintenance of SCBA was theoretically legislated in order to place the operations in the hands of specialists, trained and certified by the various suppliers of SCBA in the country.

At this time, the various providers of SCBA have trained numerous persons in the routine and specialized maintenance functions, including periodic and routine revisions and specific repairs and parts replacement. Previously, the majority of users performed their own in-house routine and periodic inspections and maintenance, relying on the suppliers to carry out repairs, parts’ replacement and testing in compliance with CE standards and legislation. Only the smaller users relied almost entirely on the suppliers for these functions.

As it stands at the time of this writing, the Guardia Civil will more than likely cancel the contract and sign-up with another, more reliable firm, and take the initial contractor to court.

As to the other users of SCBA in Spain, there are 350+ public fire and emergency response services, over 30 civil aviation airport fire brigades, some 200 or more emergency response teams in diverse industries, army, navy and air force emergency response units and, undoubtedly, many more. Even several banks and other similar non-industrial commercial entities have and, when necessary, use SCBA. The question is, how many of these civilian users have maintenance and service contracts with this contractor? And even more serious, how many other SCBA service contractors are as negligent as the one contracted by the Guardia Civil? Is the problem restricted to Spain?

It would be advisable that all SCBA users revise and inspect their SCBA equipment and closely control any and all abnormal conditions, including physical condition of air bottles; air pressure; air quality; pressure gauge accuracy; valves, fittings and threads; support harness, pressure regulator and mask assembly.

Any deficiencies or abnormal conditions should be registered and communicated as soon as possible to the apparatus supplier. If, as in Spain, routine inspections and maintenance are outsourced, the deficiencies should also be communicated to the maintenance entity as well.

SCBA is the emergency responder's primary protection in hostile environments and must be properly and routinely inspected and maintained. Not only his/her life depends on it, but that of possible victims as well.

  • Operation Florian

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