“Wash Your Gear”
There has been a lot of information in the news lately about firefighter cancer. Most of the recent publicity on this topic has focused on the link between foam and health. Firefighters have a nine percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to research by the CDC / National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH).
This is alarming! In your basic hazmat training you learned the paths of entry into your body by chemicals. We will focus on two. The first path was inhalation. This is the easiest to prevent. Never breath smoke (toxic chemicals).
The second most common is absorption. This is a little harder to protect a firefighter from. When the skin is in contact with the toxins it will begin to absorb them. The longer it is in contact, the greater the amount of toxins absorbed. While you are fighting a fire, this will always be a challenge to provide protection.
After you have fought the fire, you need to remove your gear, then clean yourself and gear as quickly as possible. While in another country on vacation I toured a local fire station. There are many similarities in our operation, equipment, and firefighters. The one thing that I was amazed by is the decontamination procedure of turnout gear. When they return to the station, the gear enters a cleaning / decontamination area. All equipment is fully cleaned and washed before being placed back in service. This is done prior to cleaning the truck! If I can sum this drill up in one statement, it would be “wash your gear.”
Upon completion, the department should be able to….
• Discuss cancer risk factors of the fire service
• Recognize where toxins are hiding in contaminated gear.
• Develop a procedure to clean/decontaminate your gear.
Scott Meinecke is a member of the Sheldon Volunteer Fire Department, Director of Safety for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, and field staff for the Fire Service Training Bureau. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org