Editor’s Opinion | Chris Mc Loone
“Clean Cab” Is Not a Dirty Term
By the time this editorial is in print, FDIC International 2019 will have come and gone.
Leading up to the show, we received many teasers and preshow introductions of products revolving around reducing firefighter exposure to contaminants found on the fireground that could lead to cancer in the future. In the weeks leading up to the show, there was also a “ramp up” of questions regarding the “Clean Cab Concept” and its viability.
My take on cancer prevention is that doing something is better than doing nothing. In terms of the Clean Cab Concept, I believe there are enough components to it that departments can employ a couple of parts or go full bore and adopt the entire concept. There aren’t many in the fire service who deny at this point that there is a problem with cancer in our business. And, I predict that most are in favor of some method of reducing—to the extent that it is possible—our exposure to carcinogens. However, if you bring up the words “clean cab,” get ready for, to put it mildly, a lively conversation.
The components of the Clean Cab Concept are one thing, but you also have to consider the idea of what proponents of it are trying to do and also the impact any component will have on your operations. In the conversations I’ve had, many of the objections voiced regarding the Clean Cab Concept have to do with its effect on operations.
No one will debate that what we do is dangerous and if we are going to aggressively attack a fire on the interior, our personal protective equipment (PPE) will be exposed to harmful contaminants. It’s just the way it is. Smoke has never been good for us. The idea on the fireground is to limit our exposure to these harmful contaminants—again, to the extent that it is possible.
We often refer to different things not as absolutes but as “other tools in the toolbox.” I look at this concept as one more tool in the toolbox to help us do our jobs that also helps us limit adverse health effects. To my way of thinking, that’s not a bad thing.
Agreeing that limiting our exposures is not a bad idea, it’s then time to figure out how to put these limits in place while not impacting the efficiency with which we do our jobs—and this is where the heated discussions start.
Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in the cab—this is, I feel, where many get locked up immediately. The way I look at it, there are departments that have opted to keep SCBA out of the cabs for years for entirely different reasons. Whatever the rationale, they made a decision to do it and were able to work out the kinks. Is it for everyone? Absolutely not.
Fire apparatus design—another point of contention. For those not enamored with the Clean Cab Concept, the idea of taking a compartment and reserving it for SCBA or PPE vs. equipment we need for our jobs is just too much. I contend that any adjustment we make in apparatus design always results in a trade-off. For example, shrinking the width of a pump panel often means using electronic valves. Or, specifying a larger water tank can often result in raising the hosebed. It depends on what your department is willing to work around. And, I am sure firefighters could figure out how to work around losing a compartment in this way.
Am I espousing employing the Clean Cab Concept? If it is part of your overall carcinogen limitation program, then sure—use whatever part of it you want. Or, don’t use any of it. But, do something, and don’t look at the term “clean cab” as a dirty term. It’s part of the fire service’s overall attempt to address a growing problem.
It could end up that the vast majority of the fire service says, “The way to reduce exposure is to decon the gear immediately upon exiting a fire and doffing the gear as soon as possible.” And, that’s fine. The question then becomes how do we transport the PPE back to the station for cleaning? Some will bag it and stow it in the cab. Others will design their apparatus to have a compartment specifically for such transport. Other departments might transport it back to the station in the back of a pickup truck. The key is no matter the means, we still have chosen an end—in this case, that end is reduced exposure to contaminants to lower our chances of developing cancer. Keep your eyes on that prize.