Why Is SCBA Cylinder Hydrostatic Testing Important And Necessary

Travis Jolliff

Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) cylinders that provide air for breathing are most commonly used in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliant and industrial applications. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires periodic hydrostatic testing of these SCBA cylinders. The NFPA recognizes the DOT’s testing requirements in their standard on SCBA selection, care and maintenance. A hydrostatic test is a method to validate the structural integrity and safety of a SCBA cylinder throughout its service life. The material of the SCBA cylinder (i.e. steel, aluminum, composite) dictates the re-testing requirements and the overall service life of the cylinder.

Under 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the DOT addresses their re-testing, or “re-qualification,” requirements for SCBA cylinders. While not referring to hydrostatic testing by name, 49 CFR addresses both the performance and the frequency requirements for “pressure testing” steel and aluminum SCBA cylinders. A hydrostatic test is commonly used for testing the SCBA cylinders because it meets all of the DOT’s pressure test performance requirements.

During a hydrostatic test, a SCBA cylinder is examined to ensure it can safely hold its rated pressure. This regular testing is crucial because SCBA cylinders can rupture if there’s degradation in structural integrity. A hydrostatic test consists of filling the cylinder with a nearly incompressible liquid, in most cases water, pressurizing the cylinder and examining it for leaks or permanent changes in shape.

In conjunction with the hydrostatic test, 49 CFR also specifies that a visual inspection be performed each time a cylinder goes through the pressure testing process. It states the cylinder “must be given an internal and external inspection,” and references various Compressed Gas Association (CGA) pamphlets, unique to specific cylinder types, for the visual inspection performance guidelines.

An additional step to the re-qualification procedure is required for DOT-3AL cylinders that are manufactured from 6351-T6 aluminum alloy. Under 49 CFR, these cylinders are required to complete an “eddy current” test. An eddy current test uses electromagnetic induction to detect tiny cracks that may not be visible. Although it rarely occurs, under certain conditions, cylinders constructed from 6351-T6 aluminum alloy are prone to this type of cracking. Details of conducting the eddy current test are located within Appendix C 49 CFR Part.

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Jay L Harman’s DOT Hydrostatic Testing facility and equipment meet all NFPA requirements for the hydrostatic testing of self contained breathing apparatus compressed gas cylinders in addition to testing ABC portable fire extinguisher cylinders.

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