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DeKalb firefighters face issues with lifesaving backpacks | Business

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DeKalb firefighters face issues with lifesaving backpacks

TUCKER, Ga. -- For a firefighter, a 30-pound backpack with a 45-minute supply of oxygen can be the difference between life and death in a raging fire.

DeKalb firefighter Captain Kevin Cavanaugh went into a house fire on April 19 wearing the unit made by Draeger Safety of Pittsburgh.

"I put on my face piece, clicked in to breathe air and everything was fine. As soon as I entered the structure I got a couple of feet in, first breath I took was nothing but smoke." Cavanaugh said. "I immediately put my hands on my face piece to make sure I had a seal. I took a couple more breaths and every time I took a breath all I was breaking was smoke."

Cavanaugh says there have been more than two dozen incidents like this since the units and oxygen bottles first arrived in 2009.

But despite the possible risk of wearing this pack, for DeKalb firefighters there is no choice.

"It is definitely uncomfortable to not have complete trust in your equipment but we still have the citizens to protect and to serve and the County, so we will make due the best that we have<" Cavanaugh said.

"It is sad but they know that the piece of equipment on their back has the potential to fail on them," said Chief Edward O'Brien of DeKalb Fire Rescue.

Chief O'Brien says he's worked with Draeger for three years to get the issues resolved but finally gave up and is now getting new equipment from a different company.

He says issues include a link from the oxygen tank to the face mask that he says can separate; a device that clicks into place to lock the unit that sometimes can pop out; and a failure of a connection on the oxygen tank.

Draeger insists they are not responsible for the failures and they plans to come to Atlanta by the end of the week to prove it.

Ralf Drew, Draeger Safety Chief Executive said in a prepared statement:

"The only conclusion we can draw is that the reports of product malfunction in DeKalb County stem from improper product maintenance and care."

Chief O'Brien says it will be fall before the new equipment arrives.