Firefighter Health and Safety Starts at the Fire Station

By Chris Mc Loone

When we think about firefighter health and safety, we often think of it on the fireground. We think about rehab after a fire, ensuring our PPE is worn properly and at the appropriate times, wearing our SCBA during overhaul, and getting to and from the scene in the safest manner possible. However, next to healthy living in general, firefighter health and safety begins at the station before we ever respond to a call.

On the career side of the business, the fire station is where firefighters spend most of their day. In many departments, firefighters are spending their days in legacy stations, sometimes built more than 100 years ago—before motorized fire apparatus existed. My volunteer fire company’s station was completed in 1927. We’ve added on over the years for additional apparatus bays, a training room to the rear, and more space for our engineers to work.

I can remember the days when we had a smooth concrete floor that became an ice rink when wet. More than one of us has taken a spill o that old floor over the years, always narrowly missing the corner of the back step of one of the rigs. When we come into the firehouse for a call, the parking lot is two or three steps above the grade of the firehouse, so on cold, icy nights, it can be a treacherous leaving the parking lot if we’re not careful. Ensuring the paths and steps are clear of snow and ice goes a long way toward limiting the occurrence of slips, trips, or falls—instances that account for many firefighter injuries every year.

We wear our SCBA to protect us from the harmful products of combustion–CO, smoke, other toxic gases. But, what about on the apparatus floor? How old are your fire trucks? Are they from the 1990s or early 2000s, or often earlier than that? Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen. If we are on the apparatus floor when a truck starts, we are exposed. If our gear is out on the floor, it is exposed, and we further expose ourselves to this carcinogen as soon as we don our PPE.

Today’s stations are designed with firefighter health and safety in mind. They are ergonomic, and they are set up in such a way that firefighters follow the path of least resistance to get from the dayroom or bunkroom to the apparatus floor. They are also set up to follow the path of least obstruction! Common areas are offset from the apparatus bays, and diesel exhaust removal systems vent or filter truck exhaust so as not to harm firefighters.

New or old, as you look at your station and enhancements you want to make, make sure everything you do is with firefighter health and safety in mind. If you’re building new, don’t skimp on safety. You wouldn’t skimp on it on your next rig. Treat your building the same way. Career or volunteer, we spend more of our on-duty time in the station than on the rig. Put the gear in a different room in modern storage areas. Remove the exhaust. Make sure your firefighters have the proper equipment to clean and dry their PPE. Ensure they can turn out as quickly as possible by having proper station alerting systems that alert and inform. Make sure the bay floor doesn’t turn into an ice skating rink to reduce slips and falls.

Make sure you spend as much time working to keep your firefighters safe at the station as you do keeping themselves on the rig and fireground.

CHRIS Mc LOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 22-year veteran of the fire service and an 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 editor for more than 20 years.

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