This article discusses best practice in equipment maintenance workshops within fire stations. It addresses fundamental workshop design and how it can be used to help reduce firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens, contaminants and other infections, thereby improving safety of crews.
Equipment used by a firefighter, from personal protective equipment (PPE) to breathing apparatus and other respiratory protection equipment (RPE), are effectively a firefighters life insurance. As a result, they must be well-maintained, cleaned to the highest standards after every use and properly dried to ensure they are ready for reuse. The work on breathing apparatus (and sometimes PPE such as chemical protection suits) is normally undertaken locally in a station or regional equipment workshop. Facemasks, lung demand valves and the breathing apparatus set itself are cleaned, disinfected, dried and subsequently tested for functional readiness and dispatched for operational deployment with compressed air breathing apparatus cylinders also being refilled. Chemical protection suits, specialist long duration breathing apparatus and other types of equipment are often also tested, repaired and maintained.
A diverse landscape
Fire stations have housed equipment workshops in some guise since their inception nearly 200 years ago, as repair facilities have always been required for basic elements of kit such as hose, branches and other ancillary equipment. It therefore stands to reason that there is considerable variation between fire station equipment workshop designs, which can present challenges for fire services looking to upgrade and modernise their facilities and adapt to more effective and cost-efficient models.
Differences emerge when looking at size, staff numbers, location, age, layout and local geographical logistics, all of which contribute to the fact there is no one-size-fits-all solution to workshop upgrades. Instead, Dräger will tailor workshop design in accordance with the fire service requirements, providing 3D drawings that visualise the space at concept stage as well as providing logistical support for installation and ongoing service and maintenance. A holistic approach is taken that considers the entire life cycle of the facility that includes full equipment, cleaning and hygiene, and logistics training and support. Our goal is to support fire services to create a consistent approach to cleaning and maintaining equipment that ultimately supports firefighters’ safety, health and improves operational response.
Another area where an upgrade to existing workshops can present a challenge comes from their local access to adequate water supplies and wastewater drainage facilities. These services are essential to house mechanical cleaning equipment and to comply with national or local authority requirements such as environmental, water quality or drainage and waste related issues. Again, our industry works with fire services to provide advice and support for submission of any planning permission and help create business cases to support budget requests and allocation.
Supporting best practice
Training, technological advancements and overall experience are helping to overcome these challenges, and a series of benefits make the time and monetary investment worthwhile. Most importantly, the health and wellbeing of firefighters can be improved through the implementation of consistent and thorough sorting, cleaning and drying processes. Modern equipment workshops provide segregated ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ areas to enable fire services to be provided with key phases of workshop activity including an appropriate drop off area for dirty/contaminated equipment, the decontamination/cleaning of the kit, maintenance for operational readiness, and uplift/dispatch of operationally ready items. These thorough processes are evidence of a considerable cultural shift that has taken us from firefighters wearing dirty kit as a badge of honour (often undertaken to prove their hard work and value) to understanding that clean and well maintained kit, supported by detailed and robust hygiene processes that mitigate every contact with contaminants, are essential.
Today, there is a greater awareness around the risk of cancer, and Dräger’s recent research shows that 84% of firefighters are concerned about exposure to carcinogens. Indeed, cancer is highlighted in some scientific reports to be the leading cause of death within the service, and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) reports that nearly two out of three (61%) firefighter deaths between 2002 and 2017 were caused by the disease.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has further cemented the role of medical and safety technology manufacturers’ in promoting the importance of having the necessary procedures to ensure equipment is clean and well-maintained. This was never-more pertinent than at the start of the pandemic, when we were inundated with enquiries on how much disinfectant was required, length of time kit should be submerged, and whether such cleaning could result in kit becoming irreparably damaged.
Modern mechanical washing systems now provide complete consistency in washing temperatures, the amount of detergent used, as well as the speed and temperature of drying. All this works together to remove contaminants, disinfect and protect the longevity of the equipment. Dräger was the first company in the emergency services space to launch these dedicated workshop designs, cleaning solutions, and offer full logistical support and training for technical equipment after installation.
Financial gains can also be realised through improving the asset management of any equipment and effective software solutions can create inventory lists of all the machines, systems, equipment, units and vehicles that need to be maintained and tested in one central data pool. This in turn informs the individual fire service as to the lifecycle performance of products, when maintenance is required, location and state of operational readiness – ultimately creating efficiencies, furthering equipment longevity and improving safety of personnel.
To help share advancements in cleaning technology and processes, Dräger has launched its ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign, which aims to increase awareness surrounding the importance of clean, well maintained firefighter kit and equipment. It communicates the importance of detailed hygiene processes; from the handling and storage of masks and breathing apparatus equipment through to the subsequent cleaning of the kit after an incident has occurred.
Overall, recent scientific research into carcinogens and the pandemic has taught us that equipment needs to not only protect firefighters against a range of ‘traditional’ hazards – smoke, hazardous materials and fire itself – but also a series of new challenges, including bacteria, viruses and all other contaminants (including carcinogens). This means that every one of us has a duty to act differently and ensure equipment is cleaned, disinfected and maintained to the highest degree in the interests of everyone’s safety and wellbeing.
For more information, go to www.draeger.com