Cleaning turnout gear to rid it of contaminants and toxins has become a regular facet of the firehouse routine.
Some departments have specialized machines in their stations designed to wash turnouts and remove contaminants. Departments that don’t clean their gear in-station send turnouts out to independent service providers who inspect, clean, and repair personal protective equipment (PPE) to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
Gear Cleaning Equipment
Gary Gauthier, regional sales manager for Milnor Laundry Systems, Pellerin Milnor Corp., says his company makes industrial-grade washer-extractors that are preprogrammed for washing turnout gear to meet NFPA 1851. “We make 40-pound, 45-pound, 60-pound, and 80-pound Gear Guardian washer-extractors for washing turnout gear,” Gauthier says. “The 80-pound model will wash about six to seven garments at a time, the 60-pound will do four to five, the 45-pound about three, and the 40-pound about two to three.”
Gauthier says the various models have 30 programmable wash formulas, including 10 preprogrammed for decontaminating firefighter gear; have solid industrial bearings inside the machines so the equipment will last a long time if properly maintained; and are easy to use by pressing a couple of buttons to do a wash load. “Most fire stations have solid foundation requirements that allow lower-cost, rigid-mount machines to be used,” he adds, “which is more desirable than a soft-mount washer that can reach high G-force extracts.”
|1 Milnor Laundry Systems makes industrial-grade washer-extractors capable of handling loads from 25 to 160 pounds. Shown is the model 30015 T6X washer-extractor that has a capacity of 40 pounds. (Photo courtesy of Milnor Laundry Systems.)|
Milnor’s washer-extractors use a low agitation speed during the wash process, Gauthier points out, with water temperature not exceeding 100°F. Milnor uses a low extract speed, Gauthier says, “to eliminate the potential of hydro bursting the fabric of the garment. Water can get soaked in the garment after the wash process, and if you spin out the water too fast or use too much G force during extraction, you can damage the garment’s fabric and make it unsafe to use for the next time it needs to be employed to fight a fire.” Milnor also makes a dryer cabinet to dry the garments after extraction. The cabinet hangs a couple of turnouts and uses warm air to dry them, not exceeding 100°F.
Another maker of washer-extractors used in the fire service is UniMac®. Bill Brooks, UniMac’s North American sales manager, says UniMac’s most common model used in the fire service is the UW design, which is an industrial-strength washer. Brooks says the UW has an “overbuilt frame and heavier bearing and shaft design, giving it increased strength.” That’s important, he adds, because “the distribution of weight inside a washer for a load of turnout gear is not perfectly balanced and requires extra strength to assure a very long machine life.”
|2 This Milnor FC-3 dryer cabinet uses warm air up to 100°F to dry turnout gear after washing. (Photo courtesy of Milnor.)|
Capacity of a washer-extractor depends on a fire department’s need, Brooks points out. “A 45-pound capacity is perfect for three sets of gear per wash, while a 65-pound capacity is ideal for five sets of gear per wash,” he says. “Our sizing increases all the way to a 160-pound capacity for a location trying to launder high volumes of gear. The drying process, when machine drying, requires a gear cabinet like our model UTG6E, which applies proper low-temperature air to circulate both inside and outside of the PPE, allowing six sets of gear to be dried in approximately three to four hours.”
The spray-rinse option on the UniMac UW model is beneficial, Brooks notes, “as it provides an open drain prewash and rinse steps that can redistribute contaminants. The spray-rinse compared to a bath rinse can be explained as a shower vs. a bath; the water and time savings are combined with a cleaner rinse.” Brooks says that the UW uses simple UniLinc™ controls that have a written description of the load selected displayed on the control.
|3 UniMac makes the UW065 hard-mount washer-extractor, a unit that will handle a 65-pound load of turnout gear. (Photo courtesy of UniMac.)|
The choice between a hard-mount washer and a soft-mount should be made depending on where the washer is to be located, Brooks says. A hard-mount washer typically needs a concrete depth of six inches for a model used in a fire station, he adds. “The design of a hard-mount washer is very simple and trouble-free as long as proper installation occurs,” he says. “A soft-mount washer is designed with an internal suspension system for the basket to reduce the force required in the floor and is a good choice if the washer is placed on an upper floor without a solid concrete floor. At the end of the day, the hard-mount design is the most popular choice in the fire industry.”
Joel Jorgensen, vice president of sales and customer services for Continental Girbau, says Continental offers both soft-mount and hard-mount washers with highly programmable controls that give excellent energy efficiency. Continental’s ExpressWash (soft-mount) washer-extractors have “a highly flexible control that allows total control over every variable of the wash process, including the ability to program extract speeds up to 381 G force, the number of baths, water temperatures, water levels, cylinder rotation, mechanical action, wash time, and automatic chemical injection,” Jorgensen says. “As freestanding machines, they slide into place without the need for bolts, grout, or concrete foundations and are easily installed and relocated.”
|4 The UTGC6EDG is UniMac’s drying cabinet for personal protective equipment. (Photo courtesy of UniMac.)|
Continental’s hard-mount washer-extractors offer up to 25 individually modifiable programs, Jorgensen says, “each with up to 11 baths, including multiple prewash, wash, and rinse cycles. Water levels, variable wash action, and extract speeds also are programmable.” Continental’s hard-mount washers, which have to be bolted to reinforced concrete foundations, are available in 25-, 45-, 55-, and 70-pound capacity models.”
Jorgensen points out that turnout gear can be dried via air drying or by using an appropriate gear dryer, such as Continental’s ExpressDry Gear Dryer, “which works by blowing a large volume of air at a controlled pressure, safely through PPE. A gear dryer such as this will return gear to service in hours, rather than days,” he observes.
|5 Continental Girbau makes the EH040 40-pound-capacity washer-extractor, far left, and the C4-IHT ExpressDry Gear Dryer. (Photo courtesy of Continental Girbau.)|
Neil Grant, training manager for Esporta Wash Systems Inc., says his company makes the Esporta IS4000 wash system. “A traditional commercial washer cleans with a mechanical action or agitation where a cylinder rotates and the clothes lift and drop, meaning a rubbing action does the cleaning,” Grant says. “Esporta is a patented cleaning process that uses hydraulic pressure to clean. The machine has a large drum divided into four compartments where the gear is held, and as the drum rotates through the water, water is pushed through the gear to clean it.”
Grant likened the Esporta’s cleaning action to a paddlewheel on a boat or to a French coffee press where a lever is pushed and fluid goes through a filter. “The same action is taking place inside our washing machine,” he says. “And because of the lack of mechanical agitation, we can wash items that typically don’t go in a commercial washer like boots and helmets.”
Gear Cleaning Services
Chad DeHaven, vice president of GearClean, says his company is one of the early adopters of the Esporta wash system. “We use it because of the benefits it has in the cleaning process,” DeHaven notes. “And as an independent service provider, we also provide advanced inspection and repair services as well.”
DeHaven says he’s seen a shift in focus by fire departments when it comes to cleaning turnout gear. “Traditionally, we saw gear once a year from a department,” he says, “but now departments are cleaning turnout gear much more regularly. We’re working with a couple of departments in Virginia to develop a program of doing advanced cleaning on gear after every structure fire they go in.”
|6 An employee at GearClean, an independent service provider, loads turnout gear into an Esporta Wash System machine. (Photo courtesy of GearClean.)|
Some departments DeHaven works with have both primary and backup turnouts for their firefighters, while others might have only some pieces of PPE as backup. “Once we get the gear in house, we can clean and dry it in 24 to 36 hours,” DeHaven points out. “The repair process takes longer, depending on the type of repair. The more frequently we see the gear, the fewer repairs are needed.” The more common repairs include replacing hook-and-loop fasteners, patching shell holes, and repairing worn pants cuffs, he says.
Tim Tomlinson, vice president of Gear Cleaning Solutions LLC, says the key to a successful gear cleaning and repair program is the partnership between the department and the independent service provider. “A Texas state mandate adopted NFPA 1851, so it’s not optional,” Tomlinson says. “Cleaning gear is as important as maintaining a fire vehicle and the equipment on it.”
|7 Turnout gear that’s been cleaned and repaired sits on racks at Shamrock Gear Restoration prior to being shipped back to the respective fire departments. (Photo courtesy of Shamrock Gear Restoration.)|
Tomlinson says his company “focuses on education and a complete gear maintenance program for fire departments. We do a lot of implementation and development of in-house systems, providing the resources needed, and explaining what equipment is available that’s effective. We show them how to inspect and hydrotest gear and implement the full NFPA 1851 program.”
The Gear Cleaning Solutions facility in Dallas, Texas, inspects and repairs about 1,200 sets of PPE a month, Tomlinson points out, using UniMac washer extractors. “We’ve had departments ship in their gear from both the East and West Coasts,” he says. “But our core region includes the states of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Arkansas where we do routes to pick up gear; get it cleaned, inspected, and repaired; and return it in 48 hours.”
Jeff Alexander, a partner in Shamrock Gear Restoration LLC, offers cleaning and repair for all elements of PPE. “We clean and repair turnout coats and pants,” Alexander says, “as well as gloves, boots, and helmets.” Alexander notes that most fire departments don’t have the budgets to outfit each firefighter with two sets of PPE. “They usually will send in four or five sets of gear at a time,” he says. “We try to turn it around in five days for advanced cleaning and inspection. Our goal is to get the gear out of here as fast as we can and back in the fire department’s hands.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.