It is well-documented that firefighter Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is exposed to a wide range of toxins, pathogens and other hazardous substances.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters have a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths.
Firefighter protective hoods are the most penetrable piece of equipment; they do not stop soot and chemicals from depositing on a firefighter’s neck and head – areas that are extremely vulnerable to dermal exposure.
The NFPA protective hood bulletin recommends that fire departments establish an overall health and safety program and establish practices for care and maintenance in accordance with NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
The NFPA and NIOSH have addressed this risk over the years through respiratory protection product standards and administrative controls on the fireground, at vehicle fires, overhaul, etc. But it is unwise to assume that when firefighters exit the hot zone, and have removed their respirators, that they are safe from these contaminants.
Research and testing have shown that combustion by-products and contaminates are also being deposited on firefighters’ skin, which is a contributing factor to cancers. The majority of thermal protective hoods that provide heat/flame protection do not provide barrier protection from contaminates being deposited on the fire fighter’s neck and head.
NIOSH is conducting preliminary research to identify the contaminants in firefighter turnout gear. Additional research will clarify the best decontamination approaches and provide the scientific basis to make recommendations for cleaning this gear. Specifically, these procedures will be applied to identify the types of cleaning processes, equipment, agents, and other factors that demonstrate removal of both chemical and biological contaminants.