The Ontario Ministry of Labour has a brief outline on its website of actions employers should be taking under Firefighter Guidance Note: Hygiene and Decontamination. Each province is different so please be sure to check your Department of Labour mandate on this issue.
The items listed below are only a few that you may want to include in a hygiene program and standard operating procedure for decontamination:
- Procedures for dealing with contaminated personal protective equipment.
- Self-contained breathing apparatus and any other firefighting equipment at an emergency scene or on the training grounds.
- A means of treating all personnel on-scene that have been exposed on-scene or training grounds to contaminate products.
- Safe storage of clean and contaminated equipment to be transported from a fire scene or training grounds on the apparatus.
- A hard timeline to take a truck and equipment out of service once returned to the station to decontaminate entirely.
- Safety precautions and protective equipment to be worn when cleaning equipment or vehicles.
- Procedures for showering and changing clothes of all personnel exposed to contaminated equipment or trucks, fire crews, department photographers, chief officers and mechanical repair technicians that have been on, in or anywhere near contaminated apparatus and related equipment.
- Establish areas within the fire station that contaminated equipment should not enter.
- Review the manufacturer’s procedures and instructions for the use of extractors and washing machines for all personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Designate an area to store clean bunker gear, PPE and fire equipment.
- A means of correctly disposing of captured contaminated washing agents and waste products.
With a little bit of training, clear and decisive instruction, a written standard operating procedure decontamination protocol can be the first line of defence in health.
Decontaminate all equipment used at a fire scene. This includes associated equipment such as fire hoses, nozzles, axes, pike poles, saws, pumps, bunker gear and PPE.
There have been multiple studies done regarding what can be contaminated. To transport this equipment and PPE in the cabs of fire trucks, pickup trucks, small cars or personal vehicles may be hazardous.
Soiled or contaminated equipment should not be transported inside the cabs of any fire department vehicles or inside a personal vehicle, taken into the quarters of a fire station, an apparatus repair facility or a firefighter’s home. Follow a field decontamination protocol. Our first line of defence is we must make sure we are safe first.
The decontamination side of this business was focused on the hazmat events at one point and time. When we heard the word decontamination, we immediately thought of hazardous material calls. We would make sure everything that was used was decontaminated as well as all those people, places or things that were directly involved.
Why don’t we treat the fire call the same way? Years of education in hazardous material calls have brought about dedicated full-size custom fire trucks, commercial fire trucks, decontamination trailers, and vehicles completely outfitted to decontaminate some of the worst stuff out there.
The training and specialized fire personnel know how to look after these situations. Let’s take what’s in front of us and put it in the mix for every confirmed structure fire – the specialized equipment that sits at the ready for that hazmat call. You have all the equipment required to do anything from a limited to mass decon.
Let’s look at some truck ideas that can be done with little cost.
I would like to send a thank you to Fire Chief Jeff McCormick of St. Catharines Fire and Emergency Services in Ontario for granting me permission to explain what he is doing. A decontamination hose can be attached to the fire pump on one of their trucks and controlled by a dedicated valve. The decon nozzle has to be able to support some wear and tear as well as be able to adjust from a shower-type spray pattern to a smoothe, bore-controlled stream of some kind.
There has to be enough hose so that a firefighter with breathing apparatus still in place can wash down tools or other equipment far away from the truck.
Chief McCormick recently took delivery of a new pumper from Safetek Emergency Vehicles. The department has dedicated a compartment behind the cab on the apparatus module but ahead of the fire pump. The compartment has an opening on both the driver and captain’s side.
If your department has the luxury of two sets of gear, the clean set goes into this compartment at the beginning of the shift. Should there be an event where the gear the firefighter has on becomes contaminated, the firefighter can be washed down complete with equipment.
The firefighter can then go to a dry zone created on the fire ground and doff all equipment and PPE. Being sure that all safety measures are in place to remove soiled gear, the gear can then be double-bagged and hung up in the compartment, not in the cab, and be taken back to a facility where the gear can be cleaned correctly.
A track can slide out both ways to hang up items for transport. Well thought-out and well-done. I know that we will be looking at this idea on our next fire truck build.
Vaughan Fire and Rescue, meanwhile, has a field support truck for crews on-scene. The truck was entirely created and built by past and present fire personnel. The truck itself was a capital purchase through city processes.
There was a need for non-potable water on this truck, a freshwater holding tank for hot and cold water, and a grey water holding tank as well. There is a sink inside the truck in the kitchen area. It has hot and cold running water, all self-contained within the truck. The hot water is generated by a heat sink built into the warm water tank through the truck’s cooling system. Boiling water must be heated on the stove or in a kettle.
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Personnel on the fire ground requiring rehab need a place to freshen up before entering the rehab truck. Personal decon on a large scale is done away from this unit. Face, hands and neck can now be done at the rehab only outside the vehicle.
An inexpensive, portable 110-volt hot water heater was purchased. It was installed under the sink then plumbed into the rehab kitchen sink as well as to an outside quick-disconnect system we created using fittings from the local hardware store.
This way, controlled instant hot and cold water can be used for pre-entry rehab, decon and cleanup.
There used to be a time that, as a mechanic, to be filthy dirty was an honour. It came with the turf. Operational firefighting was the same in Canada. But this is no longer the case.
As fire truck repair technicians, we have to worry about exhaust emissions, cleaning agents, de-greasers, working from heights, fall arrest, confined space, and heavy lifting, to mention a few. We also have to be concerned with the byproducts of combustion from the fire ground.
As is done in St Catharines, being proactive with something is better than nothing. The fire pumps on pumpers, the use of water on tankers, tenders and aerials can all be used. A simple 38-, 45- or 65-millimetre discharge port can be utilized with a metal garden hose connection. Attach a garden hose and shower-type or fog smoothe-bore nozzle and you are in the decontamination game. Something is better than nothing The interiors of the apparatus must be kept clean and wiped down regularly.
We have always been proud of what we roll in, especially when the rigs are shiny and clean on the outside. The inside of the cab and compartments should also be almost sterile.
The use of soap and water, mild detergents and bio-degradable cleaning products are all great. Be sure to use breathing protection and disposable rubber gloves when doing a deep clean.
The ballistic materials that seats are made of, in some cases, can be removed quickly and are machine washable. Keep a spare set while the others are being washed. Materials specified for seating are being manufactured so they can be decontaminated quickly and effectively.
If you have the fortune of determining the specs of your next fire truck, think about floor, door, headliner and seat material. If the floors and door panels can be scrubbed and then lightly hosed out and mopped, we are doing something. Plastic or cloth door skins are porous and hold in spoils. All metal is rough service and not good looking, but the health and safety of all those that are in, on or around the apparatus have a better chance of staying healthy.
Once again, as you do in the spring, you may want to perform a weekly deep cleaning whereby every piece of equipment is removed and washed down outside of the truck.
No matter what role we play in a fire department, we are all part of the big picture. We all go home to our families. The last thing we want to do is bring home the contaminate.
Look after your physical health, look after the apparatus and equipment. Pave the road ahead for all the up-and-coming fire personnel so that they can live long, happy lives as well.
Live long and healthy my friends. Rubber side down.