Watching recent episodes of firefighter television shows with some friends, we all had some great laughs watching the stars of the show respond to fires not wearing turnout gear, disregarding gloves inside of structure fires, and not covering their faces with a SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus).
No doubt you have had the same reaction watching these blatant oversights for the sake of good television. But the truth is, we all know what these actions would mean in the real world, especially that SCBA issue. With all the talk about firefighter cancer, we adhere pretty strictly to the “from start to finish” rule of SCBA. Nobody wants their career cut short by cancer or lung disease battling dangers on the scene. But are we as careful when it comes to decontamination of gear and equipment after the fire is over?
The increased risks of several types of cancer are well recognized throughout the fire service. Carcinogens as byproducts of combustion enter firefighters’ skin through PPE (personal protective equipment) penetration, then cross transfer from PPE to the skin, and are then inhaled in the environment during gear off-gassing. There have been numerous studies and articles over the last few years about how important it is to decontaminate our gear, but are we doing it?
FoxFury Nomad® Prime works in tricky situations when lives are on the line
Last year, I was involved in an operation where decontamination was of the utmost importance due to the hazardous nature of the call. I was glad that the lights we used during the operation were the from the FoxFury Nomad® series. As PPE was bagged or disposed of, the lights were also bagged so as not to contaminate the cargo areas of the trucks and trailers. Upon arriving back at the station, the lights were removed, and not only pressure washed, but then thoroughly brushed with hot soapy water and rinsed.
Since that experience, we have begun to use the “gross decon” method of cleaning the lights in the field before even returning to the station. Let’s face it, lights that are designed to be carried are going to be carried and why risk bringing contaminants from the scene back to the station? Recent studies show that gross decontamination on or near the scene is an effective way to decrease carcinogen exposure.
According to a 2017 Fire Rescue article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, wet-soap decontamination was the most effective way of cleaning, decreasing contamination by 85 percent. Dry brush decontamination was the second most effective, decreasing contamination by 23 percent. Air-based decontamination was the least effective with a reduction of just 0.5 percent in contaminants.
When the ability to clean the FoxFury Nomad® lights at the scene just isn’t prudent, we have begun to use cleansing wipes, exactly as we would on our own bodies. Studies show that the use of cleansing wipes reduced PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) levels by 54%. However, use of wipes on any equipment must be as thorough as if you were wiping down your ambulance. The wet-soap method or simple submersion is still the best.
Aside from being the most mobile, practical and agile lights on the market for scene lighting, the FoxFury Nomad® lights are completely water resistant and submersible. This makes them a perfect fit for your decontamination protocols.
In light of the recent responses to the wildfires out West and the 2017 hurricanes, each of us needs to start making better decisions regarding how, when and even what we decontaminate. We recently had FoxFury Nomad® scene lights in use in Texas in the immediate wake of Hurricane Harvey; lights that were exposed to toxic waste water from a superfund waste site that had overflowed into flood waters. The Nomads® were pressure-washed and submersed in a large watering trough of soapy water for decontamination.
FoxFury Nomad® scene lights are cordless and re-chargeable for easy set up
If you are a television star playing a pretend firefighter, you can afford to cut corners for the sake of ratings. If you forget to wear your gloves, don’t want to mess up your hair with a helmet, or think you look better in a t-shirt than a heavy coat, that’s okay. As for career firefighters like my own father who is presently dealing with cancer, there is no second take.
Knowing how to decontaminate is only part of the battle. Selecting equipment that will stand up to decontamination is perhaps even more important. FoxFury has gone to great lengths for many years to make sure their lights stand up to the most rigorous use and yes, decontamination.
Eddy Weiss is the CEO of C4L & Associates, a readiness and response consulting firm. He provides training, consulting, and tactical support to thousands of agencies, organizations, and corporations nationwide on disaster management, mitigation, and safety consulting.