During these challenging times Firefighters, Police, Medics and other first responders remain in the front line and are certainly likely to be exposed to the COVID-19 virus during the course of their duties.
There has been a plethora of published advice concerning specialist PPE contaminated with particulates and other toxic substances. But what about decontamination by biohazards, such as blood, body fluids and which must now include the COVID-19 virus?
Simple decontamination processes developed over many years by health professionals can be equally applied to technical Firefighting PPE at minimal costs to the authority. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or enter into expensive novel processes.
A firefighter wears a helmet, boots, gloves and a textile based suit, collectively referred to as Fire Kit, Fire Gear, Turnout Gear or Bunker Gear.
In Europe the suit conforms to EN 469 and in the USA to NFPA 1971.
It is known that common bleach is 100% effective against viruses and bacteria, but clearly it cannot be used in all circumstances due to its other properties.
A fire helmet hard shell can be wiped down with a bleach solution diluted at the rate of 1:32, and then thoroughly washed down with clean water. To put this into simple terms, this is roughly ½ cup (140 ml) of bleach in a UK gallon (4.5 litres) of water. Care should be taken to avoid contact with fabric and leather components which may suffer colour loss after contact with the bleach solution.
Hand soap and hot water works wonders. Leather SCBA & GP gloves should be donned, and the gloved hands washed with soap and water, in exactly the same process to wash your hands. The washing should exceed 20 seconds with particular attention being made to fingers and thumbs. The gloves should be thoroughly rinsed off under running water and allowed to dry naturally. They should not be placed on radiators or other heating appliances or in ovens as this would impact upon the natural suppleness of the leather.
The fire suit is a complex, technical garment. Typically consisting of 4 x distinct layers, plus reflective tape, zips and other fastenings.
The outer layer is inherently fire resistant woven fabric. It will not burn. Common materials are Meta and Para Aramids, with familiar trade names such as Nomex, PBI, Millenia and Kermal. Aramids are the firefighter’s friend but they react particularly badly to bleach.
Below the outer aramid shell is a waterproof, breathable membrane. It is often microporous, like our skin which stops liquid but allows the transmission of water vapour (ie perspiration)
Next is a thermal barrier to provide insulation against conducted heat. This could be wadding or more innovative solutions which trap air to provide insulation.
And finally a next to skin, inner layer, more often than not an aramid again.
The whole lot is sewn together using FR thread, or in the case of the waterproof membrane, bonded together with adhesive tapes. Outer reflective tapes and badges are added as well as zips and other fastenings.
Each component has different qualities, strengths and weaknesses. So how do we effectively clean a multi-layer textile based garment contaminated with bio-hazards ?
The UK NHS advice thermal disinfectant can be effectively achieved by a normal industrial wash cycle where the load is maintained at a temperature of 65˚C for a minimum period of 10 minutes or 71˚C for not less than 3 minutes.
Fabric conditioners should not be used as they can compromise the waterproof breathable membrane, and detergents should be soap based with near neutral PH values. The addition of propriety disinfectants should be avoided unless through research is undertaken to confirm the chemicals within them will not adversely affect the various layers. Hot water and soap will not damage a fire suit.
Garments should be allowed to dry naturally or in drying rooms, tumble dryers and forced heating should be avoided.
The UK Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018, instruct that all PPE should be tracked and traced to ensure it remains fit for purpose. As such it is important to maintain some form of record, be it a log book, note or asset register. This will provide an audit trail if required as part of an investigation.
By following these simple guidelines, Emergency Responders can Control the Virus, Stop the Spread and Stay Safe.
For more information, go to www.unityfireandsafety.com