In July, I authored an editorial titled “Just Consider It.” In it, I discussed the “Clean Cab Concept” for fire apparatus where departments are working to reduce firefighters’ exposure to contaminants, including carcinogens.
The Clean Cab Concept is multifaceted, with an almost a la carte selection of features that departments are free to mix and match. If your department has decided that its firefighters should step off the truck ready to go, then obviously from an operational standpoint it does not make sense to remove self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from the cab to a location in an exterior compartment. I didn’t hear anything from anyone about it. But, what I did hear about was Robert Tutterow’s “Keeping It Safe” column from that month: “What’s with the Black Finish?”
In his column, Tutterow discussed a recent trend for fire departments to use a matte black finish on their fire apparatus. He said, “What about safety? Black is the least visible color, unless you live at the north or south pole. Being conspicuous as emergency responders with conspicuous apparatus is a safety issue.” I read the column, edited it, sent it to layout, and braced myself for the hate mail. But, all we received were positive comments. I wasn’t disappointed, but I was surprised.
In August, an apparatus manufacturer announced that a department was set to take delivery of several new rescue-pumpers spec’d with the Clean Cab Concept in mind. Notably, the department took the SCBA out of the cab. It wasn’t new for the department, just the most recent time it did it. We shared the story on social media. This time I was surprised—and a little disappointed.
No one, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that everyone now must yank all the SCBA out of the cabs. How many of us have gotten off a truck with SCBA donned, hoseline stretched to the front door, and then knelt on the ground to take our helmets off to lay them in front of us while we put our face pieces on, turned on the cylinders, put the hoods over the face piece harnesses, put the helmets back on, and then connected the regulators? How many articles have we run in this magazine and posted online that have stated that different apparatus or equipment features are local decisions, followed by statements asserting that whatever your local decision is, train on it?
There is no doubt in my mind that any department that decides to take its SCBA out of the cab will, if it is worth its salt, ensure that its personnel won’t lose time getting out of the cab, getting the SCBA out of the compartment, and donning it.
Am I saying that I think all SCBA should be taken out of the cab? No. There are other alternatives to help accomplish exposure reduction. But, I was surprised at the number of people who went after moving the SCBA. There were other features, like dedicated compartments for contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE) or the seating material treated with antimicrobial finish. The comments were mostly about how backward taking SCBA out of the cab is—and it’s not when you’re trying to be proactive about exposure protection.
There was one comment though, a portion of which I’d like to share, because it really capsulizes what all these initiatives are about: “If we aren’t having the conversation, we are accepting the health risks as well as understanding the potential long-term health effects that might affect us 10, 15, 20, or 30 years down the road.” All of this—the Clean Cab Concept, the policies about PPE cleaning, separate rooms for PPE in the fire station, hot zones in fire stations, diesel exhaust capture systems, and so on—is about creating a healthy environment for our firefighters and a heightened awareness that what we are exposed to on the fireground can easily harm us. And, it won’t harm us today. The cumulative effects of ignoring these contaminants, however, can harm us in years to come.
Cancer is one of the scariest things I think about. I know too many people with it and, as I get older, too many people who are dying from it. Why not take common sense precautions now? Honestly—if we can get lots of support for a column about the color of fire trucks, why in the world can’t we get some support for actions to reduce our exposure to really nasty contaminants?