Blue Flower

August 2018 issue of “Firefighting” magazine has continued fireground survival sub-series of articles as part of my primary search series. A third article in sub-series serves as a continuation of the second – back in July 2018 we were discussing how to use PPE during the firefighting operations, and now we will touch upon the dangers that the same PPE presents to us long after the fire has been extinguished.

As always, here is a brief summary of the article in English:

  1. Modern fires are more dangerous – they are more toxic and fast thanks to synthetic fuel load and lightweight construction. Than toxic part does not end when the fire is out – carcinogens penetrate our PPE and stay there lest we do something with it.
  2. Therefore, what used to be a “badge of honor” – and I am talking about your bunker coat and a helmet covered with soot – nowadays is nothing but a “badge of ignorance”: a sign that the wearer fails to read and learn new things. I take is one step further – when I teach, I tell my students that dirty gear is also a “badge of selfishness” because it is one thing to poison and kill yourself slowly, and completely another thing to ruin the health of everyone around you without their consent or contrary to their wishes.
  3. The same applies to taking your unwashed gear outside of the firehouse – whether you put it in your car or take it home, you are contaminating either of these and poison people and animals that ride or live with you.
  4. So, all bunker gear, gloves and the hood must be washed immediately after every contact with the smoke, whether in combat or training. You must use industrial washing machine specifically dedicated for PPE washing only – household washing machines are not powerful enough to decontaminate your gear and once you load dirty PPE into a machine that is used for washing everyday clothing, you should treat that machine as permanently contaminated. The rest of the gear (helmet, boots, SCBA, PES) must be washed with a brush and flowing water using disposable gloves.
  5. Smoke is not a reliable sign of IDLH atmosphere, it often starts way before you see any smoke. So you must always use SCBA when you are inside the burning building, even if the fire is on another floor. You must also use SCBA when you are within 15 feet of the burning building, especially when you stand near the doors and windows or work on the ground ladder or aerial device. This is vitally important to survive not just IDLH atmosphere, but also a possible sudden smoke explosion or flashover – you want your face, eyes and respiratory tract protected.
  6. Salvage and overhaul phases are no less toxic than the actual fire, in fact, you must use SCBA in any building that was on fire in last 24 hours.
  7. Car and dumpster fires are even more toxic than structure fires – cars are loaded with synthetic materials and dumpsters can be loaded with things that will and has exploded in firefighters’ faces. So do use SCBA and full PPE when you are dealing with these calls.
  8. If you don’t believe me, start taking your gas detector to salvage and overhaul as well as when you are standing just nearby the burning building or extinguishing a car or dumpster fires. You will be surprised what it tells you.
  9. By the way, if your gas detector only has four standard channels – oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and lower explosive limit for combustibles, this is no longer enough in modern fires. You need to have a fifth channel for hydrogen cyanide – it is 35 times more toxic compared to CO under the same concentrations and is abundantly produced when synthetic materials are burning.
  10. Lastly, do not forget about another thing that kills us before and after fires – motor vehicle accidents. This is especially true for returning beck to the firehouse after the calls – firefighters get a false sense of security and stop paying attention. Not using seatbelts, truck rollovers and wrong recovery from the roadway departures as well as being run over by the firetruck when backing up into the bay are the most common culprits.

If you ca read Russian, you can either download and save a copy of the article in PDF format or you can view it right here on this page.

Download a copy of the article in PDF format