Firefighters rely on turnout gear to protect them from heat, smoke, flames, and other potential hazards, including toxic chemicals. Turnout gear—which is essentially all of the PPE worn to a fire scene—includes helmets, gloves, pants, jackets, boots, and any clothing worn underneath. Turnout gear has evolved over the years as the role of firefighters continues to expand and new information has been uncovered through research. Technological developments in materials also contribute to new trends in fire turnout gear. Whatever the kit includes, when it’s exposed to the fireground, it is potentially contaminated and should be treated before returning to the station.
The role of firefighters was once limited exclusively to responding to fire events (and rescuing cats from trees, if sitcoms are to be believed). Modern firefighters also respond to natural disasters and chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) incidents. This expanded role exposes firefighters to even more risks, including toxic chemicals that can have short- and long-term health effects. In fact, a NIOSH study found that firefighters have higher rates of certain types of cancers than the rest of the population.
Another factor that has increased exposure to harmful chemicals in recent decades are the synthetic compounds used in building materials. In addition to the chemicals found in furnishings and carpeting, asbestos is particularly dangerous. The NIOSH report indicated that exposure to asbestos led to about twice as many firefighters having malignant mesothelioma, compared to the general population.
To address this expanded role and evolving risks, modern gear aims to be more versatile, balancing the heavy gear required for fighting fires with new demands for resistance to chemicals and carcinogens.
Turnout gear used to be designed for shorter durations of wear in the range of 20 minutes, but new demands—such as response to wildfires—have increased demand for lighter weight gear that can be worn for longer periods of time. With the aim of increasing comfort and reducing physical stress, new turnout gear is expected to provide thermal protection with less restriction and with lighter materials.
Modern digital technology is entering the realm of firefighting with connected gear that gathers data. Innovations in SCBA gear incorporate telemetry, telecommunication, and GPS features to improve performance and protection. These innovations have been particularly helpful in fighting wildfires because of the vast area that must be covered and the inability of firefighters to communicate visually or through short-range communication systems.
In addition to advanced communication and tracking tools, some smart gear is also designed for individual protection. One company has developed a firefighting suit that is designed to warn the wearer when temperatures get dangerously hot. Because turnout gear provides such good thermal protection, it can be hard for firefighters to know how hot the surrounding environment is. A suit with sensors can alert them to rising temperatures and let them know when it’s time to exit.
Keep It Clean
Firefighter culture has long held that the dirtier the gear, the more grizzled the veteran. However, awareness is increasing about the health risks of contaminated turnout gear, prompting firefighters to be more cautious. Contaminated gear is not only a risk to the people wearing it, but also to others who might interact with it, including family members and other firefighters.
Decontaminating gear at the fireground is the best way to limit exposure. Having decontamination kits on hand in vehicles allows firefighters to eliminate the bulk of the contaminants on gear before entering the vehicle and bringing the gear back to the station.
Because of the increasing trend of decontamination, manufacturers are developing gear that is more washable. The easier it is for firefighters to keep their gear clean, the more likely they are to do it.
Use Decon7 Products for Turnout Gear Decontamination
Decon7 products can be used for turnout gear decontamination in a number of ways. At the fireground, D7 Smart Foam™ can be applied to neutralize the toxic chemicals on the surface of turnout gear, including jackets, helmets, boots, and other materials. Back at the station, Decon7 products can be used to wash down turnout gear and launder the clothing worn under turnout gear, along with and any other items that can be washed in a machine. D7 foam can also be used to treat storage areas in the station and in vehicles to help prevent cross-contamination between areas.
To learn more about best practices for decontaminating turnout gear and how Decon7 products can help, read The D7 Guide to Firefighter Turnout Gear Decontamination.