Does your department clean gear on a regular schedule?

By John “Skip” Coleman
For’s Monthly Roundtable

Firefighting is a dirty job! One of my earliest memories of my father was the way he would smell when he came home from the fire station in the morning, that sweet smell of smoke on the extra set of clothes rolled up in his tomato basket.  My children also know the sweet smoky smell of “working fire” perfume.

That smoke that provided the sweet smell of fire contains a lot of “stuff,” and we are finding more and more out about the stuff that is produced in fires. Chemicals ending in “-ic” and “-ide,” among others, which are usually not good for the human body. Most if not all of these have cumulative effects on our health.

Some fire departments are taking extra measures to lessen the effect of these toxic chemicals on the body. In Toledo, we provided extractors to every station. To my knowledge, there is no “mandatory” requirement for their use, but they are there.

Other departments are taking a stauncher role. A major Canadian fire department is no sending a portable shower and changing area to every working fire. Members are required to carry extra uniforms, bunker gear, and underwear with them at all times. Members are required to strip, shower, and don new clean clothing prior to leaving the scene. All collected clothing–including uniforms and undergarments–are collected and extracted prior to being given back.

I remember reading an article online recently in which a firefighter from a large department was complaining that the city was issuing mandatory new helmets and he was upset that he could no longer wear his “sooty,” well-seasoned helmet. I wonder what “stuff” other than soot had collected on that helmet, and how much of that “stuff” entered his body every time he plopped that “good-looking” helmet on his head. I also wonder how many times that helmet saw the inside of an extractor. Egos (and the “stuff” on fire helmets) eat brains. However, if we required new firefighters to clean their gear like that Canadian department, I wonder how many days/years we would be adding to their lives?

That brings me to this month’s question: Does your department require cleaning of bunker gear on some periodic schedule?