Comment: December 2016
We’re often challenged here at Fire Fighting in Canada to find suitable photos for our covers. We don’t tend to be on scene with our Nikon digital cameras to take high-resolution photographs of the incidents that end up in our pages as lessons-learned pieces. Cover stories are generally chosen fairly close to deadline (we like to live on the edge!) because they’re often driven by news stories or issues we hear about at conferences, seminars and workshops.
Haldimand County Fire Chief Rob Grimwood talked about his department’s hygiene and decontamination program at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs health and safety seminar in September. Grimwood had written for Fire Fighting in Canada before, so, naturally, I approached him about a story.
The photos we received from Grimwood illustrated the story nicely, but they were low resolution – taken with an iPhone – and, therefore, unsuitable for our pages.
No problem, I figured. I tapped some nearby departments that have been longtime supporters (victims?) of our persnickety photography needs, and have, by times, offered up unsuspecting rookies as models for last-minute shoots.
Surprisingly, none of the departments I contacted had yet implemented hygiene and decontamination procedures.
What’s more, I heard from one chief that volunteers are still transporting gear in their own vehicles, and from a contact connected with another department who said firefighters don’t want to risk missing a call while their gear is being cleaned – so they don’t bother to have it laundered.
Sure, municipal departments such as Ottawa, where Division Chief Peter McBride is doggedly driving health and safety, and St. Catharines – Chief Mark Mehlenbacher died of cancer in 2014 – are leaders in hygiene and decontamination procedures.
But as Grimwood writes, any department, with a bit of ingenuity and some basic equipment, can implement a hygiene program that reduces carcinogenic contaminants and keeps them out of the trucks and the fire halls, and away from firefighters’ homes and families.
The fact that some firefighters fear they will miss a call if they relinquish their gear for cleaning is disconcerting; being exposed to carcinogens – and exposing others – for the remote possibility of getting a call for a working fire defies logic and is an issue easily resolved by fire-department management.
We tried to have a photographer friend set up a photo of a firefighter hosing down another firefighter, but the proper procedures weren’t in place in the photo (the firefighter doing the hosing down was not wearing breathing apparatus) – which illustrates the lack of understanding of the issue.
Like wearing seat belts en route to a call and breathing apparatus during overhaul, hygiene and decontamination programs are common-sense yet require standard operating procedures in order to be embraced. Chief Grimwood has done the work and he’s willing to share his program. Take him up on the offer – and send us photos!