By Brian Zaitz
We are all aware of the hazards of today’s fireground; many of these incidents resemble hazardous materials calls because of the presence of chemicals such as benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and carbon monoxide. With that said, you must be proactive in protecting yourself from exposure and harm from these known hazards.
There are several actions you should take to limit your exposure to these chemicals and ensure your safety, one of them being field decontamination of your fire gear. This process removes many of the contaminants from the scene and reduces your risk of exposure to these cancer-causing agents. Fortunately, this procedure is simple and relatively inexpensive to implement.
RELATED: Doherty on Using Water for Decon ‖ Eide and Wood on Mass Decon ‖ Knapp and Saylor on Successful Decon Training
The field decon kit is comprised of a bucket, a dish soap, a bristle brush, and water. The process is the same as any gross decon process: The firefighter walks into the decon area, is rinsed off to remove large debris and wash the gear, and then he uses a scrub brush to agitate the gear and further remove chemicals. This is followed by a final rinse. The entire process takes less than 10 minutes per firefighter. After gross decon, the firefighter can proceed and remove his mask and tank and begin the decon process on said items. It is important to disassemble these items to make sure that all parts are cleaned and free of further exposure hazards. Once finished, the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and mask can be hung to dry or returned to service.
After you decon the gear and SCBA, use cleansing wipes to remove soot and dirt from your face, neck and hands. Bacterial sanitizers, although they disinfect, do not remove the chemicals and should be used only after a thorough cleansing and removal of visible dirt. Follow this procedure with a shower once returning to quarters.
Firefighting is an inherently dangerous job. The key is to understand the risks and hazards of the job is to appropriately manage what you can and be proactive in reducing risks. Take the time to review your fireground decon equipment and practice the procedure so that it becomes as much a part of the fireground as pulling the line.
Download this training bulletin as a PDF HERE (4.2 MB)
Brian Zaitz is a 15-year student of the fire service and the Captain-Training Officer with the Metro West Fire Protection District. Zaitz is also an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC , an instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy, and the Board of Director with the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He has several degrees including an associates in paramedic technology, a bachelor’s in fire science management, and master’s in human resource development. Zaitz is also a credentialed chief training officer through the Center for Public Safety Excellence as well as a student of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.