Posted by mrothmeyer | Care and Usage, Fire and Rescue, PPE, Performance, Safety
Monday, February 15th, 2010 6:02 am

Top 5 mistakes of caring for your firefighting PPE

Don’t ask for the impossible — if you don’t take care of your PPE, it won’t take care of you. Here are the top five mistakes firefighters make in caring for their gear.

Mistake 1. Cleaning your firefighter turnout in your home washing machine with commercial laundry detergent.

First, your turnout is exposed to a lot of bad on-the-job elements that have no place in your home. Second, a home-style washing machine is too harsh on the materials and can’t effectively clean all of the bulky gear. Third, laundry detergents can compromise the fabrics — so can bleach and softeners.

Instead, hose down the gear at the scene. Then read the turnout manufacturers cleaning instructions and follow them. Use the station machine and the cleaning agents recommended by the manufacturer, or seek out a verified cleaning and repair center that specializes in maintaining turnout gear. And do not use a clothes dryer — air drying is best.

Mistake 2. Inspecting your turnout by simply looking at the outer shell.

The two layers that typically have the most to do with your safety? The moisture barrier and thermal barrier. These two barriers should be inspected at least once a year. To test the moisture barrier, place the turnout over a bucket and pour one-half cup of water in a two-inch circle. If the water leaks through to the thermal barrier, it’s time to get it repaired or replaced.

The first part of LION’s PPE inspection video is below.

Mistake 3. Leaving your PPE in direct sunlight or fluorescent lighting.

Virtually every material in your PPE — turnouts, station uniforms, SCBA harnesses — is adversely affected by sunlight or prolonged exposure to fluorescent lighting, reducing the strength of fabric and seams. Store your equipment in a locker, gear bag or cover it with a heavy, dark cloth. Do not store your equipment in the cab or a car.

Mistake 4. Ignoring dramatic changes in PPE color.

Over time, fabrics fade. But if you notice sudden changes in color, you need to check your gear. If your gear changes color after washing, it could mean a harsh detergent has damaged the gear. If your outer shell has been in the red zone too long, you’ll see a change in color too. To test it, grab the fabric you think is damaged and try to push your thumbs through it. If it punctures, you need to have it repaired or replaced.

Mistake 5. Not inspecting your PPE enough.

It’s not okay to assume gear that’s showing wear and tear is still performing at optimal levels — that’s like driving with bald tires over black ice. Try to inspect your gear after every use, or at the beginning of your shift. View LION’s two-part video for a PPE Inspection 101.

2 Responses to “Top 5 mistakes of caring for your firefighting PPE”

  1. An issue that I come upon more often that not is that a department will not have designated personnel who are trained in NFPA 1851, and who will assume control of regular cleaning of PPE. They often do have proper washing machines in house, but often at times, there are many hands who end up washing gear ie. each firefighter assumes responsibility for their own PPE. Unless each one has been trained in proper washing techniques as per 1851 and the extractors washing procedures, shortcuts are sometimes taken, and improper detergents are used, resulting in overwash/underwashing and fabric degredation due to improper detergents.
    Properly trained key personnel will help ensure that the right soaps and quantities are used, and that suits are washed according to a predetermined protocol. I encourage all departments to review this key component of NFPA 1851.

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