SOUTH BEND — “A face full of bubbles.”
That’s what South Bend Fire Chief Steve Cox alleges happened when a fire captain inappropriately used Scrubbing Bubbles to clean a breathing apparatus, causing bubbles to fill the face mask he and another firefighter had put on.
Chief Steve Cox recommended to the South Bend Board of Public Safety earlier this week that Capt. Thomas Sheets be placed on a 30-day, unpaid suspension. Sheets has an opportunity to respond before the board formally votes on the matter.
Sheets, a self-contained breathing apparatus technician, is responsible for repair and maintenance of the department’s units, according to the charges outlined by Cox.
Sheets on April 20 is alleged to have performed an “experiment” to see whether cross-examination was possible with the Scott Self Contained Breathing Apparatus that the department was evaluating.
Sheets reportedly sprayed a disinfectant foam cleaner into the second stage regulator of an air pack and connected it to the face piece he was wearing.
Once the connection on the air pack was made, air rushed to the mask, and Sheets received a face full of bubbles, according to the charges. The same happened to firefighter, Brian Koloszar, when Sheets asked for him to repeat the experiment.
Cox said it appears Sheets was attempting to see whether the air chamber on this particular device would filter contaminants to the face mask. It did in this case, Cox said, because the apparatus was not equipped with a membrane piece.
Cox alleged that that air pack was not assigned to Sheets. He added another officer on an oncoming shift was not notified of the contamination and was overcome with fumes with he checked the equipment.
Sheets told Cox that he always cleans the devices with Scrubbing Bubbles, which the maker of the air product later said should never be used on such equipment.
Cox said Sheets used “extremely poor judgment” and placed himself and another officer at risk for injury by inhaling a caustic substance, all of which are in violation of the South Bend Fire Department duty manual.
Cox said the breathing apparatus is arguably a firefighters’ most important piece of safety equipment. “If you have to correlate it with the police department, it would almost be like pulling out the firing pin out of a service pistol,” he said.
Sheets did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Staff writer Tom Moor: