By Robert Tutterow
In last month’s column, I discussed some of the major changes in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (2020 ed.).
When discussing personal protective equipment (PPE) cleaning, the emphasis almost always is on the garments—i.e., turnout coats and turnout pants. Many departments now equip their firefighters with a second set of PPE, albeit just a second set of coats and trousers. I’ve heard of very few, if any, departments that offer a full second set that would include helmets, hoods, gloves, and footwear—the “elements” addressed in NFPA 1851. The exceptions are probably hoods and maybe gloves. SCBA is covered in NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services. Unfortunately, there is very little discussion, compared with bunker gear coats and pants, on how to minimize the risks of carcinogens and other chemicals that create health hazards for firefighters.
- Keeping It Safe: NFPA 1851 Revised!
- Keeping It Safe: Blocking Apparatus and Conspicuity
- Keeping It Safe: Bright Lights
In this month’s column, I’ll go over some of the issues to address in cleaning the “other PPE items.” We’ll start at the top and work our way down to the bottom.
First, all the “other items” may be cleaned in a utility sink or other suitable container. Universal precautions must be used by the person doing the cleaning—i.e., examination gloves, protective sleeves, aprons, and safety glasses or goggles. Keep in mind that the person doing the cleaning is, in effect, handling hazardous materials. There are requirements for the water temperature and the pH of the detergent used.
The most critical part of a helmet for cleaning is the headband. Think about it. It is in direct skin contact with the forehead and yet it is often totally neglected. To underscore this neglect, there are helmets in service today that do not have a removable headband. When cleaning helmets, all detachable or separate components are to be removed and washed separately. Fabric components, such as ear covers, can be washed in a washer/extractor with coats, trousers, and hoods. The hard surfaces of the helmet, such as the outer shell, are to be cleaned in a utility sink or similar container using a soft bristle brush. The hard components should never be cleaned in a machine that causes them to tumble. There are machines used in Europe to clean helmets where the helmet is attached to a spoked type wheel and rotated through soft brushes immersed in a water-based cleaning solution (think Ferris wheel).
Hoods may also be washed by hand in a utility sink or similar container, or they can be washed in a machine (washer/extractor). There are specific instructions required if handwashing, such as water temperature, the pH of the detergents, rinsing, and drying. Never ring out a hood after washing or rinsing. If cleaned in a washer/extractor, they may be washed with turnout coat and pants liners, but not with the outer shells. Hoods that have a particulate barrier are to be cleaned per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Gloves are not to be cleaned in a washer/extractor. The NFPA 1851 annex found at the back of the standard provides an explanation about the adverse effect on leather when subjected to the g-forces of a washer/extractor. It compresses the leather and it never fully recovers, thus reducing the thermal protection. The process for cleaning and drying of gloves, including the inside, is very detailed. Gloves are not to be machine dried if the dryer causes a tumbling action.
Footwear (boots) are not to be cleaned or dried in a machine that causes a tumbling action. The inside and outside of boots are to be cleaned with a soft bristle brush with the inside being cleaned first. Unless specialized equipment is available, naturally, boots are to be placed upside down for drying. Specialized equipment might include a pipe-type rack for placing boots upside down with forced air going through the pipes. This is common with boots worn by outdoor sportsmen or people who live in regions that receive a lot of snow. Some manufacturers may specify that a polish or sealant be applied to the boots after they have dried.
The bottom line: If you care about minimizing the risks of cancer and other occupational diseases for you and the members of your department, get a copy of NFPA 1851 (2020 ed.) and attend conferences and classes where it is taught.
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 40-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.).