Firefighters are exposed to a variety of harmful and poisonous compounds. This includes workers who come with dangerous materials, clean up after disasters, or even combat fires. When firefighters come into touch with these substances, some of them may be absorbed through the skin or may be inhaled when they are in smoke-filled structures. Because they frequently wear contaminated uniforms that serve as an additional source of exposure to toxic chemicals, firefighters are at high risk of contamination. Although they may not always be obvious, contaminated uniforms have the potential to cause significant health issues like cancer, chronic respiratory issues, and kidney damage.
Another problem that often arises and increases the firefighter's risk is that firefighters are also known to store firefighting ensembles in private vehicles and their homes. Many harmful substances migrate out and end up on their hands and skin as well as in the air they breathe. If they take their equipment home to wash it, they will expose their family to PFAS.
This residual contamination of firefighting gear could be a continuous source of exposure for firefighters. There is a discrepancy in the effectiveness of removing SVOCs (Semivolatile Organic Compounds) during the cleaning, laundering, and field decontamination of firefighting uniforms, which can represent a significant source of firefighters' and their families' exposure to these chemicals.
According to a study, while it is difficult to prove clear linkages between chemical exposure and cancer, health experts have warned that chemical exposure is raising firefighters' cancer risks. The compounds were found to be shedding from the clothes or moving into the coat's inner layers, according to the researchers. The chemicals in concern are part of a class of synthetic compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, often known as "forever chemicals" because they do not completely disintegrate in the environment and have been linked to a variety of health impacts, including cancer, liver damage, and lower fertility. Most firefighters often recall incidents during which they experienced dizziness, weakness, and rapid heart rate (to name a few symptoms) and did not realize that they may have been exposed to Hydrogen Cyanide.
According to studies, firefighter turnout gear and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) that becomes contaminated with toxic compounds from the fire ground can continue to transfer and off-gas toxins long after the incident has concluded, especially through their equipment.
The possibility of secondary contamination occurs when a firefighter departs the threat area.
The first step in preventing secondary contamination is for the firefighter to conduct extensive decontamination in order to remove as many exterior contaminants as possible from the outer surface of their PPE.
The second step is to correctly manage the PPE and SCBA that have gone through the gross decontamination procedure. Such protective equipment and apparel should be considered dangerous until it is washed and dried at the station.
Surface pollutants, impregnated chemicals, and compounds that can only be eliminated during advanced cleaning back at the fire station will remain on PPE and SCBA that have passed through gross decontamination. In this situation, the concern is the possibly contaminated water still present in the PPE, as well as any absorbed toxins or compounds that can release gas. All PPE and SCBA should be bagged and transported back to quarters in high-duty plastic bags.
Another issue with secondary contamination is the transporting of tainted equipment back to the station. Firefighters and officers must rethink how the available storage space is allocated and make the required adjustments to handle hauling contaminated gear because the compartment space on the majority of fire apparatus is already "spoken for" with other stored equipment and appliances.
1. Follow the manufacturer's instructions
Both police officers and firefighters must be aware of and abide by these manufacturer instructions. Each firefighter is ultimately accountable for appropriately maintaining and managing their tools and equipment.
2. Take care of your gear from the beginning
From the very outset of their fire service careers, firefighters need to develop and maintain the skills and attitudes necessary to ensure that their protective equipment is sanitary and free of potentially dangerous contaminants.
3. Do routine cleanings
Regular cleaning is required following any emergency response if soiling has taken place. It involves removing any dirt from the clothing with a brush, dampening it, and then utilizing spot cleaning as necessary.
If more cleaning is necessary, perform the following steps at a utility sink.
• Wear protective gloves and safety glasses
• Pre-treat heavily soiled areas or spots with a degreasing solution
• Do not use bleach
• Use warm water that does not exceed 40° C
• Gently brush with a soft bristle brush.
• Rinse thoroughly
• Air dry by hanging or placing in a designated dryer; do not dry in the sun as the UV rays will degrade the outer shell's fabric
• Inspect for cleanliness
4. Perform annual advanced cleaning
A minimum of once every year, or anytime an ensemble becomes so filthy that it cannot be cleaned with routine cleaning, needs to be done for advanced cleaning.
This is also necessary if routine cleaning fails to completely get rid of an obvious stench or pollution. This could apply to diesel fuel, toxins, or dirt.
5. Pre-treatment severely soiled areas
By employing a specialist spotting chemical for turnout gear to pre-treat extremely contaminated regions or equipment, the washing process can be significantly enhanced.
When pre-treating, keep your hands, eyes, and face covered. Allow the fabric enough time to absorb the professional spotter and stain. Stubborn stains may be eliminated with careful scrubbing and a soft-bristle brush.
In the event that tar globs have adhered to the cloth, let the spotter pierce the tar and the material. Next, using a plastic or wooden scraper, carefully remove any tar from the fabric's surface.
6. Decontamination after a hazmat incident
PPE should be taken out of service for specialist cleaning when it has been exposed to known hazardous compounds or biohazards.
Taking proper care of the equipment and following protocol are essential factors that must be strictly regulated. The firefighter profession is a hazardous job with many risk factors. Following a proper protocol can be essential in protecting firefighters.