When I began a career in the fire service, it was a common practice in many fire departments to be issued hand me down bunker gear. I remember once where I had to repair my helmet to make it somewhat useful. Most firefighters entering the fire service over 20-30 years ago had to earn the right to wear new or slightly used bunker gear due, in part, to economics. We never worried if our gear fit properly. Over time things changed, such as an economy that got better, regulations, industry standards and new technology that brought on opportunities to acquire new gear.
Personal Protective Clothing has become better and more effective in helping to reduce injuries. Yet, despite all the innovations we still see a number of firefighters injured and sometimes killed when they fail to properly wear their protective clothing and gear.
Recently I attended a fire fighter burn injury awareness training program to hear firsthand personal testimony from firefighters and medical providers on the impact of how not wearing protective clothing properly. The painful testimony of a burned firefighter who can no longer serve because he failed to wear and use personal protective clothing as it was intended. The story brought back memories in my career when my partner and I were burned in a house fire. I was fortunate that I wore all my bunker gear as intended. My partner was not so fortunate, and ended up in a burn center for three weeks.
As fire fighters, company and chief officers we learn lessons from our peers who have been injured. It is important to take what we have learned and put it into practice. If you do not wear protective clothing properly, it is equivalent to not wearing it at all.
Here are some tips to put to practice to ensure you do not end up in a burn center because you were not properly wearing personal protective clothing:
* Wear the full complement of NFPA compliant bunker gear correctly.
* Wear a firefighting helmet with the strap properly secured under the chin.
* Make sure all Personal Protection Clothing is NFPA Compliant
* by the manufacturer.
* Make sure any repairs on bunker gear or helmet’s is performed by a Vendor that has been approved/authorized by the manufacturer.
* Ensure that gloves are NFPA compliant for Structural Firefighting (No gardening gloves!)
* Ensure that Structural Firefighting gloves are compatible with the Bunker Coat (Sleeves) to properly protect skin.
* Ensure all Personal Protection Clothing is cleaned and inspected after use and/or at least once every six months.
* Store bunker gear away from windows to minimize exposure to UV rays and sun damage.
* Make sure the Bunker gear fits properly when bending or crawling to ensure skin will not be exposed during firefighting operations. (If you gain or lose weight assess your gear for proper fit!)
* Make sure SCBA Harness Straps are properly secured and fitting properly to minimize friction burns on shoulders and lower back.
* Wear dry clothing under bunker gear and if possible complaint to NFPA 1975 Fire Station apparel or 100% cotton.
* Keep bunker gear dry when in a ready state to minimize steams or friction burns during firefighting operations.
The DC Firefighters Burn Foundation has some excellent resources to help those in the fire service to learn the importance of properly wearing Personal Protective Clothing. Any firefighter who has ever suffered a burn injury will tell you that the experience is not something they would wish another to go through. For more information on preventing fire fighter burn injuries go to: www.ithappensinseconds.org or feel free to contact me at 207-844-2076 or firstname.lastname@example.org