Public Safety

Mt. Lebanon firefighters replaced their 15-year-old self-contained breathing apparatuses this year.

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR A  piercing alarm sounds, while a light inside the face mask turns to red.

No firefighter wants to experience this. It’s an indicator that your air pack is running low and if you’re not already out of the burning building, you’d better be headed there.

Self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) are more than just a tank of oxygen hung from a firefighter’s back. In fact, the cylinders worn by firefighters on the job are not actually filled with pure oxygen. Instead, they’re filled with breathing air compressed at a high rate—4,500 PSI. (For reference, your tires are compressed at about 35 PSI.)

They allow firefighters to safely breathe when they’re inside a burning building or facing other hazardous conditions.

Earlier this year, the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department purchased 65 new SCBAs, at a cost of about $5,500 each. Per Department of Transportation rules, air cylinders must be replaced every 15 years. The Mt. Lebanon Fire Department last purchased SCBAs in 2006.

“They’re a necessity, especially today with all of the synthetics that are out there. You have to protect your airways,” said Deputy Chief Rodger Ricciuti.

Over the years, as more synthetics have been added to furniture and carpeting, it’s made the air inside a structure fire more dangerous to breathe. “It’s really poisonous. (The smoke) is really thick and black. It looks like there’s a refinery on fire, because it’s the same stuff,” Ricciuti said.

As he does with all major purchases, Fire Chief Nick Sohyda assembled a committee to find the best devices for the department.

“We’re looking for the best deal and what best suits our needs,” Ricciuti added.

Each of Mt. Lebanon Fire Department’s response vehicles carries 11 SCBAs, to ensure there are enough for firefighters who come straight from home to the scene. The rescue vehicle has seven units. Mt. Lebanon also purchased extra hardware for the Rapid Intervention Team to use if they’re headed in to rescue a trapped or injured firefighter.

The National Fire Protection Association sets the standards for SCBA, updating its recommendations every five years, using the latest technology, materials and advancements. For example, one update during the last 15 years was for the alarm to go off when the tank has 33 percent breathing air remaining, instead of 25 percent, Ricciuti said.

While there are different sizes of SCBA cylinders, the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department primarily uses 45-minute cylinders. That doesn’t necessarily mean you get 45 minutes out of the tank, though. That’s measured at a sitting breathing rate. Firefighters are wearing heavy gear and doing rather taxing work, which means they use the air more quickly.

Mt. Lebanon’s program is designed for firefighters to work inside a structure for 20 minutes at a moderate rate, Sohyda said. Their fitness program trains them for this. The program is geared towards keeping firefighters safe.

“The heat and the stress of all of the weight, it’s not good for you to work more than 20 minutes,” Sohyda said.

COFFEE WITH A COP Get to know some of the police officers in your neighborhood at Coffee with a Cop. This Mt. Lebanon Police Department event runs from 8-11 a.m. on Thursday, December 16, at Orbis Caffe. Bring questions. MLPD will also be raffling off some prizes, including Mt. Lebanon swag and the chance to win a Ring doorbell camera. For more information, visit

BE SEEN! If a new bike is on your list of presents this year, be sure that you stay safe on those two wheels. Always wear bright and reflective clothing. Remember to signal at all turns. Don’t assume everyone can see you. Be careful of slick spots on the road and avoid puddles, which can hide those oh-so-popular Pittsburgh potholes.

PACKAGE THEFTS Your doorstep is likely filling up with packages as we inch closer to the holidays. But it’s also the time of year when the bad guys lurk in search of an easy steal. Be sure to keep an eye out for the arrival of that coveted Xbox or LOL Surprise Dolls. Don’t leave packages sitting out. If you’re not going to be home, ask a neighbor to watch out for your delivery.

CELEBRATE SAFELY As you continue to decorate for the holidays, here are a couple of important reminders for you:

Don’t overload electrical outlets. If you have more than three strands of lights connected, separate them. Don’t toss the tree in the fireplace. Evergreens are highly flammable and not safe to burn in the fireplace or on a campfire. When it’s time to take down the tree, take advantage of local tree disposal events. Mt. Lebanon collects Christmas trees at curbside trash pickup on the second and third Saturdays in January. Check out details on tree disposals at

SPACE HEATER SAFETY  The chill is in the air! If you’re planning on using a space heater to keep your toes warm this winter, remember to keep them at least three feet away from anything flammable and plug them directly into the wall. That means no extension cords or power strips.

MRTSA MEMBERSHIP Nobody wants to think about taking a ride in the back of an ambulance. You’re scared, you’re most likely in pain, and if you’re not insured, you can look forward to a pretty hefty bill.

A membership with Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA) costs $60 for an individual, $80 for a household and $100 for a business membership. MRTSA will submit your claim to your insurance carrier for the ambulance service, and as a member you will only be billed for half of what your insurance doesn’t cover.

Join online at, or call 412-343-5111 for more information.