Understanding The Frequency of Re-qualification and Cylinder Service Life For SCBA Cylinders

Travis Jolliff

When it comes to the frequency of hydrostatic testing and services lives for SCBA cylinders, not all of the answers are found within DOT’s 49 CFR guidelines. 49 CFR states, “Each cylinder bearing a DOT specification marking must be re-qualified and marked as specified in the Re-qualification Table in this subpart. Each cylinder bearing a DOT special permit number must be re-qualified and marked in conformance with this section and the terms of the applicable special permit.” The material of the SCBA cylinder (i.e. steel, aluminum, composite) dictates both the required frequency of testing these SCBA cylinders.

Steel and aluminum SCBA cylinders that are DOT specification cylinders are marked as “3AA” for steel and “3AL” for aluminum. For these cylinders, the DOT requires re-qualification every five years. Details on the periodic qualification of cylinders (cylinder specification, minimum test pressure and the re-qualification period) are given in 49 CFR. The DOT does not specify a service life for steel and aluminum cylinders, but the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) allows for their reuse indefinitely as long as they continue to pass their hydrostatic and visual inspections every five years.

For other commonly used SCBA cylinder materials like fiberglass composites and carbon composites, the answers to re-qualification frequency and service life are linked to the “special permit number” referenced in 49 CFR. The special permit numbers were once known as “exemption numbers.” The special permit or exemption contains the re-qualification and service life requirements for the respective cylinder in question. If the special permit/exemption documentation is not readily available, the manufacturer of the SCBA should be consulted for direction and to obtain the missing documentation.

Some common re-qualification and service life periods for non-steel and non-aluminum cylinders are:

  • Hoop-wrapped cylinders should be tested every three years and have a 15-year service life.
  • Fully-wrapped fiberglass cylinders should be tested every three years and have a 15-year service life.
  • Fully-wrapped Kevlar® cylinders should be tested every three years and have a 15-year service life.
  • Fully-wrapped carbon fiber cylinders should be tested every five years and have a 15-year service life.

These are some of the most common re-qualification and service lifetime frames found on special permits. It’s the responsibility of the SCBA owner to follow the requirements specific to their cylinder’s special permit.

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