Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Health and wellness Hot topics
Well-Being: December 2010

Bedbugs were once all but eradicated in Canada but these pests have made an unwelcome comeback. Bedbugs are reddish-brown, oval-shaped insects that look like apple seeds with six legs. It can be difficult to tell if you have bedbugs because they hide well, are pretty small and, generally, they come out only when it’s dark. 

November 25, 2010
By Ian Crosby

Topics

Bedbugs were once all but eradicated in Canada but these pests have made an unwelcome comeback. Bedbugs are reddish-brown, oval-shaped insects that look like apple seeds with six legs. It can be difficult to tell if you have bedbugs because they hide well, are pretty small and, generally, they come out only when it’s dark. 

Bedbugs like to hide in cracks and crevices in mattresses, bed frames, furniture, carpets and walls during the day and typically bite people while they sleep. Literature on bedbugs indicates they can live up to a year on one feeding.
 
Since bedbugs hide so well and can go a while without feeding, they are notoriously difficult to eradicate. It’s for these reasons that it’s important to be diligent to avoid bringing these pests into a fire station. If we do get an invasion, we need to eliminate the bedbugs as soon as possible before they can breed and lay eggs.

As the bedbug populations rise, it’s likely that fire personnel will encounter situations in which they are present. Bedbugs travel well, stowing away in luggage and even clothing. Don’t assume that you have to worry about bedbugs only at homeless shelters; they are being found in expensive hotels, and even in movie theatres, department stores and taxi cabs in New York City.

Walking into a room that has bedbugs doesn’t mean you will get bedbugs. Bedbugs don’t jump and they spend most of their time trying to avoid light. Despite this, these insects are invading a growing number of fire stations across the United States. A bedbugs incident was reported in the Denver Post: “Firefighters battling the blaze had a hard time because of an attic filled with storage items and debris, including things infested with bedbugs. The pesky bedbugs, animated by the fire, sought refuge on firefighters, latching onto equipment and gear.”

Advertisment

Firefighters should inspect their gear after returning from a run where they suspect a bedbug problem, especially if a crew member has brushed against soft furniture. Bedbugs tend to hide in the seams of clothing, so take special care to inspect these areas of your uniform.

Killing bedbugs on fabric requires temperatures above 48 C. If the bedbugs are only on clothing, the best way to prevent them from spreading is to contain them. Use a procedure similar to that for any contaminated gear – place your gear in a plastic bag. If you are washing contaminated gear, be sure the washing machine temperature is set on hot and the tub is full before adding the clothing. Following a thorough washing, place the clothes in the dryer on the highest heat setting. 

It’s not just the calls you have to worry about. Many firefighters like to travel; these tiny pests can hitch a ride in station bags and backpacks used by vacationing firefighters.

Despite their elusiveness, there are some signs that will help you determine if a fire station has been invaded by bedbugs:

  • You will see little red bites without knowing why. People rarely catch bedbugs in the act – they come out when you are asleep and bite only for a short period. They are most active just before dawn.
  • Bedbugs create a lot of waste that shows up as dark brown or reddish spots on your mattress (which can be feces and/or blood). Or, you may find shed skin, eggs or dead bedbugs inside your mattress, between the box spring and mattress, or in the sheets.

On the upside, bedbugs have never been shown to transmit disease. But once a bedbug population is established in a fire station, it is difficult and expensive to eradicate. Aside from the exterminator fees, infested furniture may have to be replaced. Since July, the San Diego Fire Department has spent $46,000 to treat six fire stations infested with bedbugs. The seventh and latest infestation involves the city’s largest station and an estimated treatment cost of $25,000.

The problem is more widespread in the United States than in Canada, but bedbugs don’t stop at the border. Many Canadian cities are reporting an increase in calls that involve bedbugs.

To help reduce potential costs, departments should consider investing in mattress bags. Once bedbugs get into a mattress, the mattress will likely need to be discarded. A mattress bag won’t necessarily stop an infestation, but it will keep bedbugs from penetrating a mattress. Practising good diligence by carefully inspecting items that enter a fire station is the best way to keep this pest at bay.


Ian Crosby is in his 17th year with the Calgary Fire Department and serves as its wellness and fitness co-ordinator. Crosby developed the department’s Wellness Centre, which opened February 2005. He is a member of the IAFF/IAFC/ACE Peer Fitness Trainer (PFT) Oversight Committee and an instructor for the PFT certification
program. E-mail him at Ian.Crosby@calgary.ca


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*