TUCKER, GA -- For firefighters on a mission of search and rescue, a 30-pound backpack with a 45-minute supply of oxygen can mean the difference between life and death.
In DeKalb County, firefighters say these life-saving units, manufactured by Draeger Safety of Pittsburgh and in use since 2009, have failed 27 times.
Draeger Safety says the units are reliable and effective.
Draeger company officials came to Atlanta to staunchly defend the backpacks, and blame improper maintenance and care for any issues DeKalb County may be having.
"It's a safe and robust product and it meets and exceeds all applicable safety standards for the industry and it simply does not perform in a matter described in reports if it used and maintained properly," said Draeger's vice president, Tim Martin.
But DeKalb Fire Chief Edward O'Brien disagrees. He says some of the units have defective parts.
"We do have a full shop. We have certified technicians and we do take care of our equipment. We know we've had these incidents and we've documented them. We are working with them to try and resolve them. We have had numerous units that have gone back to the factory for repair," O'Brien said.
"Are you nervous about your firefighters using them," asked 11Alive's Bill Liss.
"Yes I am," O'Brien replied.
The chief says the department will replace the existing Draeger backpacks at a cost of $2 million. He says the new life saving equipment will be in place by fall.
In the meantime 600 DeKalb firefighters will have to use the existing equipment until the new units arrive.