During this year’s FDIC International, I kept noticing how many new products and product redesigns were focused on contamination control. Clearly, the nation’s firefighters and the equipment suppliers are paying attention. Here is a sampling and brief description of those observations.
Almost all the apparatus seat manufacturers were offering easily cleanable seats. Most prominent was a seamless foam seat (with no fabric) that, in most cases, was easily detachable to wash in a utility sink or decontamination bucket. Other designs included zippered seat covers that were easily removed to be placed in an extractor with turnout gear and pants.
Pierce displayed an engine with some interesting contamination control features such as diamond treadplate flooring, vertical exhaust installed in the middle behind the cab, and an air-conditioning unit with an easily removed HEPA filter. An interesting feature was a dedicated heated water tank with a supply inlet and discharge outlet. This uses warm water to wash down firefighters as part of initial exposure reduction control. The system can also be used to wash other contaminated equipment. Sutphen was also featuring an engine with a diamond treadplate floor, no self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in the cab, and two dedicated exterior slide-out compartments on either side of the apparatus cab dedicated for personal protective equipment (PPE) and SCBA storage.
Rockland Custom Products introduced a new design of its product to minimize off-gassing exposure in SUV vehicles. SUVs are the most common staff vehicles for battalion chiefs and other officers. As they most likely carry PPE, there is always the presence of soot odor from the off-gassing, especially after a working fire. Rockland makes cabinetry that goes in the back of SUVs for command posts and storage, including PPE. Its new PPE cabinet design includes a blower that brings air from the vehicle interior and circulates it (using a perforated double interior wall) and exhausts the air through to the exterior of the vehicle. This is accomplished by drilling an approximately 11⁄2-inch hole in the floorboard for piping the exhaust. Should the cabinet be removed and the vehicle repurposed or sold, the floorboard hole is easily plugged with a rubber grommet. This cabinet can also be adapted to fire apparatus.
MSA had a display board that showed all its easily detachable soft goods from its SCBA and helmets that can be placed in a bag and washed in an extractor. Interspiro featured an SCBA design from Europe that uses a minimum amount of fabric in its harness. The entire unit (including the SCBA bottle) is designed to be placed in a commercial dish-washing machine for cleaning. It offers a separate machine for cleaning face pieces. It was noteworthy that it also supplies its own cleaning soap for washing machines. And, it offers wipes for its face piece that are also touted as very effective in wiping down the interior of apparatus cabs. The Scott X3 Pro Pack was the first SCBA designed and marketed for easy cleaning, and it was a featured product of the 3M Scott Fire & Safety booth.
Lion and Viking were two of the turnout gear manufacturers that were showing their contamination control designs. Both use DuPont nanotechnology to block particulates from entering interface areas such as the wristlet-glove area, bottom of the pant leg-boot interface area, and the coat closure system. Viking opted for rubberized Kevlar in the pant leg at the boot interface area. Lion had a unique feature placing a red band around the edges of the interface area materials that indicate at a quick glance that the interface areas were not properly donned.
The most promising of the contamination control products on display was by Decontex. This Belgium-based manufacturer demonstrated the decontamination process by using CO2. Its process was developed through a $1.24 million grant. The turnout gear is placed in a large machine with a drum (weighing about two tons) with a capacity of about four sets of turnout gear. The garments are then sucked into a vacuum, followed by pressurization to 1,000 pounds per square inch. Then the drum is slowly rotated at 1 revolution per minute. The reports from the testing show that the process is far more effective than using water in extractors. The pressurized CO2 can penetrate moisture barriers without damaging them, consequently forcing the removal of the smallest of contaminants. As of this writing, subject matter experts are headed overseas to get a closer look at this process that is in use in eight regions in Europe and Russia. The company is looking for United States partners, and the application would be for independent service providers more so than individual fire departments.
In addition, the FDIC International exhibit floor had numerous vendors exhibiting other contamination control products such as particulate barrier hoods, cleaning agents, and wipes. Finally, several companies were touting software programs for firefighters to document their exposures after every working incident. It is my thought that we are just now seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new contamination control products, redesigns, programs, and processes.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).