Some departments were already cleaning and inspecting their gear before NFPA 1851 was issued, using guidelines developed by the fire service organizations S.A.F.E.R. and F.I.E.R.O. The vast majority of departments, however, were not. When the first edition of 1851 was issued in January 2001, it established requirements for fire departments for the selection, care, and maintenance of their PPE. I think it’s a fair statement to say that it was not initially embraced by the fire service. Perhaps the need was not as easily recognizable then as it is today.
NFPA 1851 was immediately adopted by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection, making it mandatory in Texas. Departments, including mine, scrambled a bit to come into compliance. With time, departments in Texas as well as other parts of the country rose to the challenge and figured it out. Certainly, the mandatory aspect of it in Texas pushed us along more quickly. However, other parts of the country also made great strides. The “why” questions have, for the most part, been replaced by “how” questions. Instead of pushing back, departments are anxious to learn how to properly care for their gear. Very good PPE care and maintenance programs are now in place in departments large and small across the country. And, departments are pushing it forward, developing policies, procedures, and best practices that in some cases go beyond the requirements of 1851. As an example, see the sidebar “Healthy In, Healthy Out.”
Actually, it’s pretty amazing to see how far the fire service has come since 2001. That said, there is still work to be done. I occasionally come across departments still reluctant to follow 1851, or who misunderstand the requirements. One of the most common misconceptions I hear is, “We clean our gear once a year, so we are complying with 1851!” That is not the case. PPE is required to be properly cleaned whenever it’s dirty. So, perhaps better guidance is needed.
More research is needed on cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Are our current requirements and best practices adequate? Are changes needed? Fortunately, the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation is currently working with the Technical Committee responsible for 1851 to answer those questions. As more research is completed, the 1851 standard will continue to be refined.
NFPA 1851 is not just a PPE care and maintenance standard; it’s a firefighter safety and health document. If you’re still a holdout, it’s time to come on board. Clean your gear. Inspect your gear. Your safety and health are at stake.