I’ve talked for quite some time about training in our turnout gear, as mentioned back in a previous article (http://ffclimb4cures.com/?p=148), and spoke about cleanliness at the gym. Perhaps and area where I haven’t delved into as much is one that really gets me fired up, and that’s our PPE cleanliness as a whole around the firehouse. When I mean firehouse, I mean from the busiest to the slowest around because it can affect any and all of us.
I’ve been trying to think of a way for some time to really put the whole clean PPE thing into perspective and I think I found it. Really it comes down to, “quit being a lazy ass that wants to look cool because I guarantee you this that you’ve increased your odds of getting cancer.” Maybe what we really need to do is tell you that, “you’re going to DIE,” there is no calm way to get it across, because these are the statistics where more and more of our Brother firefighters are battling cancer. Skin, testicular, prostate, lung, digestive, where do you want it, because it’s coming in a variety of flavors and in some cases more than once. The CDC says it, NIOSH says it, and the labels on products out there have the dreaded “C” word. What more do you want? Does it take someone near you being diagnosed before you take action?
Over the weekend, driving back from a competition I had plenty of time on my hands to think and as I sat there un-showered after four climbs up a skyscraper it hit me. “I really need a new Scentsy disc in my truck because it reeks like a locker-room.” I promise this is coming together here. It comes down to this. Working out, competing, and hitting the field in our workout clothes are no different than the fire ground and PPE.
Would you ever think about busting your ass at the gym for a few hours and then go wear the clothes all over the house, change and not shower? Would you run a marathon and skip out on changing clothes? Ok, maybe you might run to the store, but eventually you’d shower. Now lets get personal and imagine that you take that same set of clothes right down to whatever you choose to wear, and repeat it. Not just repeat it the next day, but the day after, and then a week, and then forget about it in your gym bag and just keep wearing it? I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I know my workouts are far from easy, even on the light days so imagine the nastiness that builds up. Its getting a little gross, right?
Your workout clothes thankfully are just funk, smell, and bacteria, now think of your fire gear. Not only do you have the funk and smell inside, but also what’s on the outside? I honestly can’t tell you that because do we even know? Do you know what has burned, decomposed, dripped, spilled, or that you have brushed up against? Looking back at my last fire I can remember some insulation, drywall, plastics, paneling, slime of some sort, not to mention the particulate, so who really knows. I guarantee you this that what is on there is nothing that you want to come into contact with over a long period of time. I’ll be honest, I’ve been that guy before. Either because there was a line for getting my gear cleaned or I had to leave in a hurry and couldn’t completely get everything as clean as I should. Shame on me, but we can all change going forward.
How do we take some action that will make a difference, that’s a GREAT question that you ask? First we start that process of decon on scene by spraying some of the big chunks off. When we get back to the firehouse cleaning up not only our tools we used, but the cab of the truck, get our equipment back in service, and then start on our gear and ourselves. If you can, top to bottom with all parts of your PPE. Not every department is fortunate enough to provide two sets of gear, but as soon as possible follow your department guidelines for washing your bunker gear. Get that mask cleaned up, that helmet, and your boots, these are three things that can go right back into service. Something that I learned over the course of my fire career is having backups and spares of certain items such as hoods and gloves. In a document put out by the Firefighter Cancer Support Network in 2013 the hood is not designed to stop skin absorption, only protect from heat. Even worse, that area of the body which it “protects” is more permeable than others. Read their full document here (http://www.firefightercancersupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Taking-Action-against-Cancer-in-the-Fire-Service.pdf) for the full details.
So as I said, have backups. Wash your hood, wash your gloves and get both of them drying while your backups are in place. Once you have your gear in the washer, equipment all back in service. Wash up. If you can, shower. Get as much of that remaining particulate and who knows what off you.
The cost of a hood and a pair of gloves is a little over $100, but sometimes you might be able to find an older pair to make due until you can get both. While my department can’t provide me a second set of gear I have taken it upon myself to see that I have proper set of backup gear that is approved which I can rotate in. Looking for some? Check with your local supplier. I’ll be quite honest I ended up purchasing mine at an open house from our gear vendor where they were liquidating new gear that either was a misorder or for some reason not out in the field. Perfect fit and plenty of years left in it.
When your frontline gear is ready, get it out of the dryer and back into service. Let the fact that you have survived a long career of firefighting, healthy and active be your badge of courage, not blackened gear. I would much rather be cancer free and able to watch my son join the fire department and pass down the trade which I love.