4 storage strategies to minimize carcinogen exposure
Consider your station’s unique needs to plan for appropriate PPE storage that prevents contamination
By Robert Avsec
Sponsored by GearGrid
By Robert Avsec for FireRescue1 BrandFocus
Probably no topic is getting more attention in the fire service than keeping firefighting PPE, aka turnout gear, clean. The body of knowledge regarding the toxins, chemicals and compounds that firefighters are exposed to during interior structural firefighting continues to grow, and the discussion about protecting firefighters from these hazards must go beyond on-site operating practices for the handling of contaminated PPE.
The next frontier of protecting firefighters from contaminated PPE is when firefighters in their PPE arrive back at the fire station. Properly managing that gear from its off-load from the apparatus through the washing and drying process and storage until the next alarm is necessary to prevent secondary contamination of personnel and fire station facilities.
1. Consider how your facility is used
How is your fire station used, both by your firefighters and the public? Most fire stations are, in fact, multiple occupancy types under one roof. These occupancy types can include:
- Dormitories and shower facilities (like a hotel or college dorm).
- Kitchen and dining area (like a restaurant).
- Fitness equipment and space (like your local fitness center).
- Vehicle storage and repair space (like a commercial garage or motor pool).
- Office space.
- Classroom space (like an educational facility).
Volunteer-staffed fire stations may or may not have all those areas, and they could have others, like a large meeting room for membership meetings and community functions (public assembly), or larger kitchen facility and dining area to accommodate fundraising dinners.
That last one should be of concern if that “larger dining facility” is normally the apparatus base. Moving contaminated PPE from the fire apparatus base during these fundraising events is a necessary precaution to ensure that secondary contamination doesn't occur from children or others handling PPE that may not have been properly cleaned or from off-gassing of fire gear that has not been properly cleaned and dried.
2. Keep clean and dirty areas separate
Think of your fire station in terms of clean areas and dirty areas as it relates to unprocessed gear – that is, gear that must be washed and dried. (You did do gross decon back at the scene, right?) You should clearly designate what those areas are through your policies, procedures and signage.
Signage is more important than you might think. Why do you think industrial and manufacturing facilities make such extensive use of signage to designate operational areas and improve safety? Because it works.
Within the dirty area, e.g., the apparatus bay, create designated and identified control zones: hot, warm and cold – just like we do for hazmat incidents.
- Hot Zone: Where unprocessed turnout gear is brought to upon its return to the station. Make your station’s hot zone as close to your regular washing and drying machines as possible.
- Warm Zone: Where processed turnout gear is reassembled (as needed) and prepared for return to storage. Also where washed turnout gear is properly hung up for drying (in the absence of a mechanical dryer) or staged awaiting its time in the dryer.
- Cold Zone: Where clean and dried turnout gear is stored until its next use.
GearGrid’s mobile freestanding lockers provide a good tool for keeping unprocessed turnout gear off of the apparatus floor and other equipment in the station while awaiting its turn in the washer/dryer process. Having one or two mobile lockers readily available to accept gear when it returns to the station is a great way to keep a problem from developing.
3. Choose the right storage for your PPE
After your gear has been washed, make sure you have good open lockers that allow proper drying and ventilation. This is vitally important if you don't have a mechanical dryer. Even with mechanical drying, it's important that your PPE can dry completely and do any off-gassing.
For example, the open grid design used for all of GearGrid’s lockers, whether wall-mounted, freestanding or mobile, ensures airflow in and around cleaned gear for quicker and more thorough drying.
4. Make sure your storage itself is easy to clean
Finally, look for PPE storage lockers that that can be easily cleaned with soap and water and that are designed to allow for easy cleaning in, around and under the lockers. The powder coat finish on all GearGrid’s lockers, for instance, makes for greater durability and easy cleaning with soap and water. This will help minimize dust and any lingering contaminants.
Keeping your turnout gear clean and properly stored are critical steps in reducing exposure to the toxins, chemicals and compounds common to structural firefighting. Take steps to make sure your storage protects your PPE and keeping contaminants at bay.