One of the most important aspects of maintaining health and safety within the firefighting industry is ensuring regular inspection and maintenance of fire protection gear. Simply having the best personal protective equipment (PPE) and getting training on the correct use is not enough. All fire protection gear must be regularly monitored to ensure effective protection and performance.
Contaminated or soiled firefighter clothing, gloves, hoods, helmets, footwear, and other protective gear can be a hazard to firefighters. Clean and well-maintained gear provides better protection and lasts longer. Under the regulatory safety laws, NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards dictate that maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE) must be done as part of an appropriate care and maintenance plan.
Here are three reasons why you need to monitor your fire protection gear.
Ensure Maximum Protection in Hazardous Conditions
Firefighters are exposed to hazardous environments that pose various safety and health risks. Exposure to harsh weather elements, mechanical stress, thermal stress, contaminated gear, and chemicals are some of the serious day-to-day risks that firefighters have to undergo on the job. It’s important to continuously monitor and maintain your fire protection gear to ensure its suitability for continued service and maximum protection.
Considering the different operational situations that firefighters deal with, the risk of exposure to carcinogens and toxins through inhalation, ingestion, or absorption is usually high but can be avoided. This can be done by ensuring that turnout gear is always clean and in excellent condition before and after use. All PPE must be thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated after use to reduce the risk of body contamination.
All firefighters and facility managers have the responsibility to ensure that department-issued personal protective equipment is of the highest quality, clean, and in excellent condition. Firefighting stations must have copies of NFPA and OSHA standards on selection, care, and maintenance of structural, wildland, and proximity protective gear.
What steps should you take to ensure maximum protective gear protection?
- Clean and decontaminate your fire protection gear after use.
- Invest in the latest gear to increase protective capability.
- Know the potential health risks involved in firefighting.
- Expand your knowledge of PPE and safety requirements.
- Perform routine inspections of all of your fire protection gear.
Maintain Performance Standards
The performance of personal protective equipment including turnout clothing, gloves, eye protection equipment, and firefighter duty boots is critical to the safety of firefighters. Soiled and contaminated gear can have reduced protective performance. If your protective gear is not well maintained and monitored to check for any potential problems, you’ll be putting yourself at risk. Frequent monitoring of all PPE is critical to maintaining performance standards required in the industry.
If your fire protection gear is damaged, it needs immediate replacement or repairs to ensure it can perform as expected in extreme firefighting conditions. High-performance gear comes with enhanced protective capabilities. Regular care and inspection of your gear must be done as part of your firefighting gear maintenance plan.
Extend Service Life of Your PPE
As a firefighter, monitoring your turnout gear will not only ensure that it protects you, but also serve you for many years. Although the NFPA recommends that fire protection gear must be replaced every 10 years, most gear like turnout garments, gloves, and footwear get damaged either on ground or due to poor maintenance. By periodically performing routine inspections on your PPE, you’ll know if your turnout gear is in the best condition.
Regular monitoring helps you extend the service life of your PPE. With good care and longer durability, firefighting departments can save a lot of money replacing gear that could otherwise be in use. Facility managers should oversee inspections, safety tests, and repairs of fire protection gear through the established NFPA and OSHA standards so as to ensure the durability of their fire protection gear.
When monitoring your fire protection equipment, make sure that you’re following the recommended NFPA inspection guidelines and procedures discussed below.
Recommended Inspection Guidelines
- Fire protection gear is to be inspected monthly by individual firefighters and semi-annually by facility supervisors and after gear is exposed to extreme conditions.
- Gear to be inspected include helmet, protective hood turnout pants, turnout coat, fire gloves, eye protection, fire boots, and breathing air systems.
- All protective gear will be regularly inspected, cleaned and repaired in accordance with manufacturer requirements and specifications.
- If specific protective gear doesn’t meet safety standards after inspection, officers in charge must have the items replaced immediately.
- If fire protection gear is damaged during actual operational emergencies, supervisors must be notified to secure quality replacements.
- Advanced inspection of all personal protective equipment (PPE) by specially trained personnel must be done at least once every 12 months.
Inspection Procedures for Fire Protection Gear
Inspect all helmet components including the shell, headband, suspensions, sweatbands, and other accessories for signs of cracks, weakened materials, holes, charring, or burning. Check for heat/burn damage or reflectiveness on the reflective trim.
Inspect for holes, tears, burns, elasticity, proper fit, and fraying.
Inspect for tears, frays, holes, moisture barrier separation, and check for proper fit.
Inspect the leather exterior for tears, fraying, holes, contamination, burns, or charring and weakened materials. Check inner liner for moisture barrier separation, thermal damage, and ensure proper fit.
Turnout Coat and Pants
Inspect outer shell for possible contamination, holes, tears, fraying, burns or charring. Check inner linings for moisture barring separation, holes, tears, fraying and thermal damage. Inspect hardware like zippers, velcro and snaps for functionality. Ensure proper reflective trim condition and check for proper fit.
SCBA and Eye Protection
Inspect for contamination, cracks, heat damage, crazing and visibility. Ensure straps and head net maintain proper elasticity. Proper fit is also crucial.
Importance of Maintenance
The importance of monitoring and maintaining the cleanliness of fire protection gear such as boots, turnout clothing, and hazmat gloves should not be underestimated. It plays a huge role in ensuring maximum protection during operational situations and improving protective performance and durability.
When it comes to cleaning your fire protection gear, make sure you only use state and county approved cleaning and decontamination facilities. Proper storage of your personal protective equipment is also necessary.