Necessity sometimes breeds ingenuity. That’s the case of Mike Matros, the inventor of the Mobile Extraction Unit® that brings decon of contaminated turnout gear to a fire scene, 24/7.
Matros, the president of RedLine First Responder Gear Cleaning, determined there was a need for onsite decon turnout gear cleaning, whether at a fire incident or at a fire station. “We know that firefighters’ skin is constantly exposed to chemicals and there is an elevated risk that combustion byproducts will be absorbed, regardless of personal protective equipment (PPE),” Matros says. “Often, the exposure is a result of the cross-transfer of contaminants from the PPE to the skin, which can increase the risk of cancer.”
Matros also is the founder of the Heroes Cup Foundation, a non-profit foundation that works toward cancer prevention, and has spent years working with researchers to identify the risks associated with firefighters wearing contaminated turnout gear.
In order to minimize firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens, Matros came up with the idea of developing a mobile cleaning system that could be brought to a fire scene or fire station and clean the turnout gear onsite.
Matros says he worked with Peterbilt, which provided engineering and design support for the Mobile Extraction Unit, built on a Peterbilt chassis and two-door cab with a 40-foot body that holds the mobile laundry that can decon all of a firefighter’s PPE. The Mobile Extraction Unit’s body has a 70-pound outer shell PPE gear extractor that’s designed to decontaminate while ensuring a maximum controlled environment and safety of the gear, he points out. The unit also has a 70-pound inner shell PPE gear extractor designed to decon the inner shells without breaking down the materials.
The Mobile Extraction Unit has a 110-pound tumble dryer for inner shells, commercial laundry machines that balance drying temperature, airflow pattern and usable cylinder space for optimal drying results, as well as outer shell drying cabinets that allow controlled ventilation for outer shell items, including helmets and boots, Matros says. In addition, the mobile laundry has a portable ultrasonic cleaning unit designed specifically for PPE, which can process multiple helmets or boots and meets National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requirements, he adds.
Matros points out that the Mobile Extraction Unit uses two water tanks, a 600-gallon clean water tank, as well as a gray water tank that eliminates environmental issues and the need for onsite permits and disposal of decontaminated materials. “We also have a first-of-its-kind O-Zone Cleaning Station that treats and processes the waste-water extracted from contaminated turnout gear and allows the Mobile Extraction Unit to properly dispose the water and run 100% green.”
The Mobile Extraction Unit also is equipped with a hydrostatic and reflection testing station, Matros says, that is used to inspect all inner liners, ensuring each set of turnout gear is safe and will not cause steam burns, per NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, care and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, and also conducts a reflection test to make certain that reflective strips work properly.
Matros says that RedLine currently has four Mobile Extraction Units in operation and expects to add more trucks to the fleet this year.
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Ariz.-based journalist, the author of three novels and five non-fiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including the position of chief.