Are Your Firefighters Equipped?

Firefighters perform a valuable service to the communities they protect, and in doing so, they put their lives at risk. While firefighting has always been dangerous, the materials in burning buildings are even more hazardous than in previous years. Household contents previously made of natural wood are now made of pressed wood, synthetics and polymer-based components. When these materials burn, they produce toxic gases, and toxins in soot and ash can be absorbed through the skin. This can be dangerous to the firefighters’ health. While the exposures cannot be eliminated, they can certainly be reduced.

One way to help protect the firefighters from the risks they face is equipping them with the appropriate personal protective equipment and the tools to properly clean them. There should be procedures for decontaminating gear at the fire scene as part of a process of gross decontamination. This could include scrub brushes and soap, medical gloves and wet wipes. An on-scene decontamination kit costs $10 to $20. Some agencies are able to provide a second set of clean gear, so that the dirty set can be swapped out immediately after a fire in order for the first set to be properly cleaned.

Firefighters’ gear should be routinely cleaned since it becomes soiled during a fire. If done properly, that not only keeps the personal protective equipment in service, but more importantly, protects the firefighter from harmful agents. Unfortunately, many fire departments simply lack access to washer/extractor machines or the resources to send their gear out to specialized cleaning companies when needed.

An in-house washer/extractor built specifically to clean the gear costs anywhere between $6,000 and $10,000, depending on how it is mounted and how many sets of equipment it needs to hold. Understandably, turnout gear is very slow to dry, so it is extremely helpful for firefighters to also have specially designed dryers that speed up the process. Dryers can cost between $1,000 and $5,000. While these washers and dryers are more expensive than household appliances that perform similar functions, they are specifically designed for firefighters’ gear. It is a reasonable expense for protecting the individuals that serve to protect the county. The appliances can be even less expensive if shared with other jurisdictions.

If firefighters encounter diesel fuel, gasoline or other chemicals or biological agents, more advanced cleaning is necessary to remove the contaminants. An accumulation of substances could affect the firefighter’s health and could degrade the gear’s performance, so it is important to have the gear cleaned quickly and thoroughly.

Are your firefighters properly equipped?

For more information on Toxic Build Up in Firefighting Operations, read the recent article from ACCG’s risk control service.