Firefighters encounter many known and obvious health risks—smoke inhalation, burns, and so on—but they also face an invisible threat. Exposure to carcinogens at the fireground is a serious health risk that is only recently being addressed in the industry. The results of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study that linked firefighting with higher risk of cancer have sparked much-needed discussion of this issue.
To that end, the National Fire Protection Association initiated a campaign for contamination control to reduce exposure to contaminants from soiled turnout gear and personal protective equipment. The hope is that heightened awareness of the issue combined with best practices for cleaning turnout gear will help reduce the risk of exposure to harmful contaminants. By following a few key steps for firefighter decontamination after a fire, you can minimize initial exposure and cross-contamination to reduce overall risk.
1. Decontaminate at the Fireground
Remove and neutralize as many contaminants as possible at the fireground. This includes turnout gear and any equipment that was used when fighting the fire. Taking this step at the fireground can significantly reduce cross-contamination and lower the risk of exposure by removing a majority of contaminants. Keep the necessary decontamination equipment in vehicles and ensure that all team members know when and how to use it. Do not allow firefighters to enter the vehicles until this step has been completed.
2. Isolate Contaminated Gear
After leaving the fireground, put as much contaminated gear as possible into designated storage areas in vehicles to minimize cross-contamination. Regularly decontaminate vehicle cabs to remove carcinogens that get transferred from the gear, even after decontamination at the fireground.
At the station, have designated areas for contaminated gear and do not allow any equipment to enter shared living and dining areas. Pay special attention to boots, because it is easy to track contaminants into spaces this way. Don’t allow firefighters to reuse contaminated gear until it has been treated and laundered. It may be necessary to provide two sets of gear for each firefighter to ensure that there is always a clean set available for the next call.
3. Use Effective Products
When cleaning gear, it’s common to use soap and water or water alone, and although these approaches are better than nothing, they have many disadvantages. Decontaminating with only water is not nearly as effective as using a product that neutralizes chemicals and carcinogens. Using soap and water is more effective than water alone, but this approach is not as effective as using a product designed to neutralize chemicals. Just as you would choose certain types of extinguishing chemicals for fighting certain types of fires, it’s important to choose the right products for the job when it comes to decontamination.
Scrubbing, although effective for removing contamination on the surface, can affect the integrity of gear and shorten its lifetime. Use Decon7 products to quickly and effectively decontaminate turnout gear and equipment at the fireground, in vehicle storage areas, and at the station without the need for scrubbing.
4. Provide Training
Having the right decontamination products on hand will only work if everybody knows how to use them and follows the right decontamination procedures. Educate firefighters about the potential health effects of carcinogens and how decontaminating gear can reduce risk and minimize exposure time. Make decontamination at the fireground part of your regular training routine so it becomes second nature during live events.
Use Decon7 training foam so firefighters learn how to use the equipment, know how much product is required, and understand that they must wait for contact times. Carcinogens are an invisible threat, but visible foam shows you which areas have been treated and what gear still needs to be sprayed. Drive home the importance of thoroughly spraying all equipment every time to minimize risk as much as possible.
Protect Your Team with Decon7 Products
Decon7 provides foam and liquid decontamination products to help you decontaminate after a fire and protect your team from the invisible threat of carcinogens. Applying the foam at the fireground makes it easy to see that all gear has been treated. At the station, use liquid products to soak or launder used gear before deploying it again. For more tips and best practices, read The Decon7 Guide to Firefighter Turnout Gear Decontamination.