BY CHRIS Mc LOONE
Across the fire service, fire departments are taking a variety of steps to limit firefighter exposure to different contaminants and carcinogens.
One department that has been very proactive in recent years in exposure reduction and cancer prevention is Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue. The department recently replaced all 850 of its self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) through a $6.3 million order with 3M Scott Fire & Safety. The bulk replacement not only brings its SCBA up to the current edition of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, but it also brings SCBA into the department that fit into its overarching program to reduce contaminant exposure.
MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is a full-service department that serves 29 municipalities plus unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade County. It also provides service to Port Miami, which is the largest passenger seaport in the United States, and protects three airports. “We operate 70 fire stations,” says Chief Dave Downey. “We have 140 front-line apparatus. We have 2,500 personnel, of which almost 2,100 are uniformed firefighters. We serve a population of about 2.5 million, and we cover an area of almost 2,000 square miles.” Specialized fire apparatus include a heavy rescue, three medium rescues, two fireboats, crash fire rescue vehicles, and four rescue helicopters.
Miami-Dade decided to replace all of its SCBA, although Downey says they might hold onto a few of the older SCBA for training purposes. Implementation played a role in the decision to replace all the SCBA at once, according to Downey. “While the packs are similar, I didn’t want to be in a situation where we were using two different packs at the same time,” he says. “It will still be a monumental task to provide the training and issue the packs in as short a period as possible, so we are using not only traditional instructor-led training but some computer-based training to expedite the implementation. Additionally, we will take the implementation period to provide our annual SCBA refresher training as well.” As far as the purchase itself, the department was able to fund the entire purchase at once, which simplified things. “We chose this time to purchase because our current SCBA were reaching end of life as far as the NFPA standard, and these new packs allowed us to get up to date with the latest standard. All the stars aligned to give us the opportunity to put us into the new standard and get us ahead of the standard development,” Downey says.
Downey explains that the department did not choose to a comprehensive evaluation process as it had in the past because it is an existing 3M Scott Fire & Safety customer. “This process was an enhancement,” he says. “We had previously conducted an extensive evaluation of all of the SCBA brands and determined the Scott air pack had the features, reliability, durability, and service we desired. During the previous evaluation, we brought in line firefighters to put all of the SCBA through the test, under actual conditions. We rated everything from comfort to accessibility to reading the gauges and working with the pieces of the apparatus and the mask. We were confident that we had gone through a comprehensive process previously and didn’t see a need to change manufacturers.”
The SCBA Miami-Dade purchased from 3M Scott Fire & Safety is the Air-Pak X3 Pro. The SCBA focuses on what 3M Scott Fire & Safety calls the three Cs: cleanability, comfort, and connectivity. “We were focused from the very beginning of the design on how we could minimize exposure and on the technology we could bring as an SCBA provider,” says Jeff Emery, global BU leader, 3M Scott Fire & Safety. “And so, we looked first at the cleanability of the materials themselves and changed some of the materials to make them much easier to wipe clean.” Downey says, “When we’re choosing new equipment, we evaluate how it’s going to keep us safe at the scene and aid in our search and rescue for victims, but we also have to look at what happens after we leave the scene. With this new SCBA, we especially like the ability to easily decon the units.”
In addition to materials that are easier to wipe clean, Emery explains that the soft goods are easily removable to be laundered should a department choose to. “Without the use of any tools, we can now strip off the soft goods.” Departments can buy extra sets of the soft goods to replace at the scene of a fire or once back at the station. “Some departments that have adopted the Air-Pak X3 Pro have taken that route—just like they have two sets of gear, they have two sets of soft goods now to allow a clean SCBA to be put back on the apparatus,” says Emery.
Emery explains that the company also made changes to the soft goods for comfort. “They are more comfortable from a padding standpoint,” he says. “It’s more comfortable in terms of articulation and connection points. The belt is significantly easier to cinch up than previous versions, which allows the unit to fit much better on the waist.” A new shoulder harness design improves the ease of donning the SCBA and minimizes pressure points to reduce user fatigue. A naturally articulating waist pad provides the user a greater range of motion, while transferring weight to the hips for a more balanced load. Superior breathability offers minimal breathing resistance to reduce user burden and improve operational efficiencies.
Emery says the Air-Pak X3 Pro also adds connectivity options. “We’ve added Bluetooth® capability, and we’ve added ePAR,” he comments. ePAR is electronic PAR that allows incident command to reliably check the status of the firefighters on scene without creating additional radio traffic. Data downloading and configuration changes are made easier using a wireless connection to smartphones. ePAR is used with SEMS, which is 3M Scott Fire & Safety’s telemetry system.
Downey says the SCBA are part of the department’s comprehensive contamination reduction program. Although the department did buy some replacement soft goods, he explains that the department’s program really aims to switch out entire SCBA systems. “I have not been a believer that just having a second set of bunker gear or trying to clean equipment on scene is going to cure cancer,” he says. “My goal is to try to limit the exposure of our people to the contaminants. So, we are embarking on a total process whereby on the scene or immediately returning to the station after a fire, we’re changing out everybody’s gear and giving them a clean set of gear as well as an SCBA.”
So, the contaminated SCBA will be taken out of service and replaced with clean units. Then, the harnesses will be cleaned by the same cleaner that cleans the department’s bunker gear. Once clean, the previously contaminated SCBA go back into a cache of ready equipment. “This is a work in progress,” states Downey. “We’re starting small within one battalion, one geographical area, and making sure everything works. “In the meantime, we’re doing hood/glove exchange, handwashing, and gross decontamination after the exposure; the ultimate goal is to be able to change out everything contaminated.”
THE BROADER PROGRAM
For a number of years, the department and union leadership has been evaluating the increased incidence of cancer. “We were at a point where 30 percent of our people, active and retired, had cancer of some form,” says Downey.
Faced with this, Downey and leaders have implemented a departmentwide program addressing cancer awareness and exposure reduction that touches many aspects of operations.
It starts with rookie firefighters. “We teach them about cancer awareness and keeping clean and limiting contamination, showering after fires, cleaning their gear, and changing out their gear,” Downey says. “We’ve trained all of our firefighters on the job hazards.”
The department has implemented a hood exchange and a glove exchange. “Again, I didn’t think the answer was issuing multiple hoods to firefighters but rather changing them out at the scene,” he says. “We added a glove exchange, so we’re changing out our firefighting gloves at the scene.” Also on scene, firefighters will wipe down any exposed skin.
The department has moved away from the concept of personalized gear. “We’ve gone away from ‘my gear,’ ” he says. “It’s no longer your gear. It’s not personalized. You have a protective ensemble, and if that becomes contaminated, we’re changing you into another protective ensemble.”
With its medic units, the department started ensuring that firefighting gear is in outside compartments, and the department is in the process of taking delivery of six suppression units with outside storage for all contaminated gear. “We’ve moved the breathing apparatus out of the cab,” says Downey. “We’ve changed the design of the seats in the cab where they can be wiped down and cleaned. My ultimate goal—and I probably won’t see this before the end of my career—but my ultimate goal would be to open an apparatus door and not have somebody say, ‘Wow, I guess you guys caught a fire last night.’ ”
The department is even changing the location of flashlights. There will be flashlights in the dirty areas of the truck that will be used for firefighting and will be cleaned after a fire. But, other flashlights will be used on emergency medical services runs. They are a different color and will be stored in the cab. “I’m not sure what the one or two things are that are causing cancer,” asserts Downey, “and it doesn’t matter to me right now. I just want to limit exposure.” Florida has issued every fire truck a decontamination kit to help with on-scene gross decontamination of gear. “So, we’ll do a gross decontamination on the scene,” says Downey, “and just continue to look at avenues where we can limit the contamination.”
Circling back to the SCBA order, Downey adds, “The ability to decontaminate the harness, to remove the soft harness and clean it—the ease in doing that was a big selling feature for me, not to mention the comfort and ease of operation. So, all of those things we’re working on. And, I’ve got to tell you—these new clean cab engines are going to be a big cultural change for our department that we’re going to have to work through. But just like changing out the gear, I’m confident we can accomplish that.”
CHRIS Mc LOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 25-year veteran of the fire service currently serving as a safety officer and former assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has served on past apparatus and equipment purchasing committees. He has also held engineering officer positions, where he was responsible for apparatus maintenance and inspection. He has been a writer and an editor for more than 20 years.