There is an increasing emphasis among the global firefighter family on the importance of health and well-being.
This is partly about the health and well-being of the people living in our communities, but just as importantly about firefighters themselves.
Hainsworth recently returned from the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organisation (FIERO) PPE symposium in Raleigh, North Carolina, where there was a lot of talk about the well-being of our firefighters.
Among the symposium’s presentations was one by Keith Tyson, Director of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN), entitled “Taking Action against Cancer in the Fire Service”. Keith referred to recent studies in the United States (Study of Cancer among U.S. Firefighters, August 2013, NIOSH/USFA Firefighter Cancer Study: Robert D. Daniels, PhD, CHP) and Scandinavia (Cancer Incidence among Firefighters: 45 Years of Follow-up in Five Nordic Countries, February 2014, Nordic Firefighter Cancer Study: Professor Eero Pukkala).
The FCSN believes that “cancer is the most dangerous and under-recognised threat to the health and safety of…firefighters”.
In fact, the symposium’s overriding theme, irrespective of the topic under discussion, was the well-being of the firefighter, particularly in terms of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals in smoke from fires and the risk of them passing into the firefighter either by inhalation or through the skin.
Traditionally, in the United States, there has been a culture of trying to get to the seat of a fire as quickly as possible. As Hollywood has portrayed in films such as Backdraft, emerging from fires covered in dirt had become a badge of honour for many US firefighters.
It was noticeable at the Raleigh symposium how much the mood had changed. Perhaps against the backdrop of recent cancer studies, firefighters are much more interested in what is getting on to their kit and the role their kit can play in helping to reduce the risk of them contracting cancer – something which often goes undetected until they have long retired from the fire service.
While the number of fires has decreased in recent years, the type of fire has changed. They develop more quickly and the associated smoke can be more toxic. By the time firefighters are arriving at the scene of a fire, the smoke will have built up and they will be going straight into smoke in a way that was less the case 20 years ago.
Traditionally, the dominant factor in determining choice of PPE has been which kit best protects against the threat of heat and flame. Well-being in terms of potential exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens has been less high on the agenda.
Hainsworth has for some time made the health (as well as the safety) of firefighters an integral part of its research and development at its UKAS accredited laboratory. We understand that regular washing of kit is one of the best ways to minimise health risks.
All Hainsworth TITAN Technology products are underpinned by three core messages – design that saves, protection that shows and quality that lasts.
Durability is a key consideration in the design of all products. In order to decontaminate turnout gear, regular washing is required. But durability of kit is essential due to the abrasive nature of the wash process. Hainsworth ensures its fabrics work harder to keep firefighters safer for longer; good colour fastness to light and washing; low repair and replacement rate compared with other weave and fibre combinations; and greater breathability for longer due to the unique patented construction.
All TITAN products have a high level of repellence to water, acids, alkalis and gasoline. This level of performance is achieved by the high performance and proprietary REPEL + finish which is standard on all TITAN fabrics. REPEL + is designed to keep firefighters dry and comfortable without affecting the breathability of their gear, even after repeat washing. REPEL + meets the chemical protection and spray rating requirements of EN469:2005, even after regular laundering.
Other ways in which the risk to firefighters can be minimised include:
- Minimising contact with smoke – don’t go into fire and smoke if it is not necessary;
- Ensuring PPE is fitted properly, particularly at the interface between gear (neck, waist and upper legs above boots);
- Decontaminating after exposure – this can include hosing down the firefighter in their gear;
- Reduce the risk in fire vehicles – separating out contaminated gear;
- Firefighter cleaning after exposure including wiping down risk areas on skin and showering as soon as possible.
Hainsworth is unique in being able to tap into more than 150 years’ experience as a manufacturer of industry-leading fabrics for firefighter PPE allied to its position as a global exporter.
While firefighters in the US are beginning to place health and well-being at the top of their agenda, their counterparts in Germany have championed this for some time. For German firefighters, cleanliness of kit is a key consideration.
The issue of firefighter health and well-being has been monitored closely in the UK during the past decade, but is now becoming an increasingly important factor in discussions around PPE procurement.
The health and well-being of the communities firefighters serve is also being highlighted in a new campaign being led by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA).
Hainsworth has agreed to be a partner in the initiative, which will include in an in-depth film being produced by ITN Productions entitled “Beyond Blue Lights”.
The online programme, to be showcased at the CFOA Conference at Carden Park Hotel in Chester in September will explore the scope of the fire service and its increasing role in helping to create “healthy, safe and resilient communities”.
The project is a high-profile example of the changing face of the fire service in the UK – and, indeed, internationally. The role of the firefighter has changed considerably in the past 20 years and
will continue to do so. Firefighters now put out far fewer fires and play a much greater role in fire awareness within their communities.
The CFOA campaign is about positioning the fire service in its modern day and future context with a focus on promoting the health and well-being of the society it serves and demonstrating how this is best achieved by working with other Blue Light services as well as industry partners such as Hainsworth.
For further information, go to www.protectsyou.co.uk