The dangers of cancer-causing particulates have never been in sharper focus in firefighting than they are today. Indeed, firefighters are becoming more aware of the risks associated with their job and exposure to carcinogens. But are all firefighters aware of the different measures that should be taken to reduce their contact with particulates?
Here, Reece Buchner, technical sales manager at FlamePro, a British specialist manufacturer of life-saving garments for firefighters, explains five steps that can help to reduce exposure to harmful residuum.*
Choose PPE designed to protect against particulates
Research by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) suggests that fire contaminants on UK firefighters’ personal protective equipment (PPE) might have a link to higher cancer occurrences. Therefore, it’s crucial that firefighters are equipped with top-of-the-range PPE garments, and in particular fire hoods, that have been specifically designed to prevent these particulates from penetrating through the material and coming into contact with a firefighter’s skin.
New garment technology such as Nomex® Nano Flex tackles the risks caused by cancer-causing particulates and averages 95%-98% particulate filtration, which actually improves with repeated washes.
Currently, skin absorption is thought to be the main exposure route. In fact, firefighters are at greatest risk of contamination after an incident – contaminants can come into contact with the skin or be inhaled as PPE and kit is removed. Firefighters need to be practised at personal decontamination immediately after leaving a hazardous area by removing PPE safely avoiding contact with exposed skin and even making sure they avoid putting their gloves in their helmet. They should also take time to cleanse the most vulnerable areas of the skin – the hands, face, neck and throat.
Make use of an experienced laundry service
Traditionally, a smoky fire suit was a badge of honour for firefighters. However, with knowledge levels around harmful particulates ever increasing, so too is the understanding that garments must be frequently washed to reduce risk.
Fire suits need to be properly laundered to ensure they are cleaned of any harmful substances, such as particulates, chemicals and asbestos. Contracting a regular cleaning service with an industrial laundry, either directly or through your PPE supplier, can ensure your team’s garments are cleaned in a safe and effective manner.
Regular PPE inspections
It’s essential that PPE is inspected on a regular basis to look for any signs of wear and tear, or if it needs professional cleaning. Fire suits should be checked for stains, damage to the fabric or seams, or unclear labelling, at the beginning of a firefighter’s shift and after heading out to any incident.
If your brigade is arranging its own professional laundry services directly, it’s also important that the laundrette checks the garments during the cleaning process.
A firefighting suit is only as strong as its weakest seam. These suits are made up of many layers and components, and if just one aspect of the suit becomes damaged, it can compromise the protection offered by the garment.
PPE suppliers will often offer a care and maintenance package for firefighting PPE, to provide professional repair services in a quick and easy manner for busy brigades.
Further reading: BS 8617 was published in October 2019 and gives very practical advice on particulate protection working practices.
For more information, go to www.flame-pro.com
*We understand that particulate protection is a very wide subject, in this article we are simply suggesting five practical things that can be done. The list is not exhaustive.