Fire Exposures of Firefighter Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus Facepiece Lenses

Firefighter face mask

Authors: Amy Mensch, George Braga, Nelson Bryner
Institution: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Funder: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)


Respiratory protection, in the form of Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), is a vital component of a firefighter’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The SCBA facepiece lens is often considered the weakest component of a fire fighter’s ensemble in high heat conditions, but the level of thermal performance of the facepiece lens is not well understood.

Thermally degraded and melted SCBA facepiece lenses have been identified as a contributing factor in certain firefighter fatalities. The Fire Exposures of Firefighter Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus Facepiece Lenses study demonstrated a range of realistic thermal exposures and environmental conditions which can result in thermal degradation and even catastrophic failure of facepieces.


  1. This study is the first step in identifying the causative factors regarding material degradation of SCBA facepiece lens. This testing reveals the expected limits to the integrity of SCBA facepieces lens based on temperature environments and heat flux.
  2. There is a failure limit to all materials used in the manufacturing of SCBA facepieces.
  3. While an SCBA is provided to allow entry into IDLH environments, training and situational awareness are the most important factors in assuring that an SCBA facepiece does not reach failure point.
  4. Firefighters should be educated on the thermal and heat flux limits of SCBA facepieces and understand the importance of proper use, inspection and maintenance after any thermal exposure.
  5. The fire service must keep abreast of future research projects that address: the effects of both thermal and heat flux exposure on SCBA facepieces an understanding of the importance of SCBA facepiece use and maintenance the consequences of a catastrophic failure of a SCBA facepiece
  6. While this report provides vital data regarding approximate temperatures and heat flux environments that will cause a facepiece lens to degrade, further experiments are needed to identify not only these circumstances but other influences that cause facepiece failures. Data on the restrictions of the SCBA facepiece would be valuable information for the fire service to help prevent further injuries and fatalities related to SCBA facepiece failure.


Fact Sheet (PDF) Checklist
NIST Technical Note 1724
NIST Technical Note 1785
Workshop Proceedings
SCBA NIST facepiece test 1
SCBA NIST facepiece test 2
SCBA NIST facepiece test 3
SCBA NIST facepiece test 4

About NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Fire Research Division develops, verifies, and utilizes measurements and predictive methods to quantify the behavior of fire and means to reduce the impact of fire on people, property, and the environment. This work involves integration of laboratory measurements, verified methods of prediction, and large-scale fire experiments to demonstrate the use and value of the research products. Through its programs in measurement, prediction, systems integration, and the dynamics of fire and its interactions with the built and natural environment, the division provides leadership for advancing the theory and practice of fire safety engineering, fire fighting, fire investigation, fire testing, fire data management, and intentional burning.