Fire outbreaks today are more dangerous than ever. Buildings are built with a lot more than just wood, bricks, and glass. When flames interact with synthetic material, electronic equipment, and plastic, it causes carcinogens to be released into the atmosphere.
Once released, these carcinogens can lead to fatal illnesses, including myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate, and testicular cancers. Firefighters are vulnerable to disease not only because pathogens are in the air, but they can also stick to exposed gear, ultimately passing onto the skin and into the bloodstream.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was established in 1896 as a self-funded, nonprofit organization focused on eliminating death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. They deliver information and education through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research training and education, outreach and advocacy, and partnering with others who share an interest in furthering their mission.[i]
One of the critical standards first delivered in 1971 was the NFPA 1851 Standard on Protective Ensemble for Structural Fire Fighting. NFPA 1971. Over the years, the standard has been updated to include the risks emergency responders face and, among other things, their specific needs for protective clothing and related elements. It is also written for "end-users of structural fire fighting protective ensembles and ensemble elements to inspect, maintain, and care for the protective ensembles and elements they use during structural fire fighting operations."
Under the 2014 ruling, the NFPA 1851 required fire departments to conduct advanced cleaning of firefighter PPE cleaning equipment at least once a year but indicates clothing should be cleaned whenever contaminated or soiled.
For the 2020 edition of the standard, the program requires two advanced cleanings each year. Protective clothing should be subject to advanced cleaning whenever exposed to combustible products, such as smoke particulates and fire gases.
These updated requirements for fire departments in selecting, caring, and maintaining firefighter protective clothing and equipment detail how PPE should be cleaned.
The standard also requires fire departments to develop written SOPs (standard operations procedures) describing the program's components and defining roles and responsibilities. Specifically, NFPA 1851 establishes needed criteria for setting up a program to reduce potential safety and health risks due to poorly maintained, contaminated, or damaged protective gear.
The program covers selection, inspection, cleaning and decontamination, repair, storage, retirement, and record keeping. While several detailed specifications are in place, this white paper will discuss PPE maintenance and cleaning specifics.
Highlights to note*[ii]:
- You should provide documentation on the steps taken by the organization to ensure PPE in service continues to provide sufficient protection, including details on what to do in case of injury or loss of life.
- Perform a risk assessment before any purchasing to determine the PPE is suitable for the hazards most likely to be faced by your department.
- Perform routine inspections to look for soiling, contamination, physical damage, missing items, and loss of seam integrity. It also requires a more detailed assessment of the garments' separable layers, including the moisture barrier.
- Repairs must be performed by the original manufacturer, a verified, trained service provider, or a trained individual in your organization.
- Identify the parties responsible for the routine cleaning of their issued gear and instructions on cleaning and drying based on the manufacturer's recommendations. It also recommends advanced cleaning for soiled or contaminated equipment before it is used.
- Storage requirements are also detailed regarding the necessity for gear to be cleaned and dried before storage in a well-ventilated area (i.e., drying cabinet) and hung to limit the damage caused by folding. Several points are also noted about where not to store your gear.
- Lastly, standards are set for the retirement of gear (no more than ten years from the date of manufacture) and when components of the radiant reflective outer shell are a max of 5 years. It also states that items must be retired if they are not compliant with the NCPA standards or are worn, damaged, contaminated, or defective beyond repair.
While the updated requirement creates some challenges for many fire departments that are currently not staffed with the resources to provide frequent cleaning of turn-out gear, AAdvantage Laundry Systems is working to provide solutions to support the new standard.
Contact us to learn more about how washer-extractors, dryers, and drying cabinets can help limit exposure to harmful carcinogens and extend the life of your personal protective equipment.