Ok... So your turnouts might be exposed to pesticides or chemicals. How do you know they are "clean"?

Let's just say that a first alarm assignment responded to... let's say a mobile home where there were reported things like, oh. just off the top of my head, and totally making this up of course, pesticides, and other chemicals (hazardous materials) consumed in a fire. For the sake of discussion, let's assume everyone around the incident both during initial response and during the actual firefight felt no ill effects. It was not until afterwards that any effects are typically felt in many cases.

It is important to note that exposure to chemicals could even produce a news statement that could read something like... 

"Firefighters began experiencing burning eyes and light headedness after the blaze was extinguished."

Typically, we handle patient / victim rescue but there really are no true standards out there as far as when is clean clean... In this totally fictitious example of firefighters being inadvertently exposed to hazardous materials, the question that needs to be addressed by fire departments is how do they make the determination that a firefighters turnouts (PPE) are safe for continued reissue post incident.

I submit the following for discussion and I am not aware of any other means to make an absolute determination whether or not there was an exposure to a firefighter. I will provide two examples and methods to determine whether or not a firefighters PPE was contaminated. Like many things you can do it the VERY expensive, but thorough way, or... the quick and easy, get your answers and an immediate affirmation as to whether or not you need to go to threatcom alpha or not...

Assuming that whatever the methyl-ethyl-death is on the PPE, it is a given that the lighter ended hydrocarbons and aromatics are going to go bye-bye pretty quick, dependent upon ambient temperature, materials involved and concentration. I mention this because the sooner you test the PPE the better the chances are to get a positive result with documentable evidence, should it be necessary to protect the firefighter(s), which presumably is anyone reading this post.

Method 1: Requires Teflon® lined sealable evidence container. Why Teflon®? It's one of the few things that can hold a gas inside the container. The container is shipped to someplace like the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory where the Teflon® lined container with the sample is placed into a vacuum chamber that is pumped full of an inert gas such as nitrogen. It is then that the container is opened and the sample is then prepared for destructive testing. This is where the material sample is actually burned, with a gas chromograph illustrating the presence of a hazardous material or chemical.

There is a problem with this method... it's rather expensive and it requires a piece of the turnouts to be removed and sent to the lab for analysis. You also need to have a lot of tools to make this kind of evaluation.

If you are going to enlist this level of sophistication, which if it was my turnouts in question, would be money well spent, you better have pretty deep pockets or a good reason to suspect contamination. If you do, then you want specific information that can only be found through destructive testing.

Dependent upon the level(s) of contamination and what you are looking for, this is a very accurate way to assess the amount of contamination present in the sample(s). But it's not cheap and it certainly is not free. Plus, who has a Teflon® container lying around?

Method 2: Assuming that most agencies have minimal funds to cover testing EVERYONE involved with the incident and their PPE without justification and some sort of proof that their is a legitimate concern. Using Method 1 is not be any means an expedient way to determine the presence of hazardous materials. Nothing is fast when it comes to a laboratory testing anything and again it's not cheap. 

So, would you believe me if I said that I found a way years ago to beat the system and be able to have some sort of definitive proof when I tell my Chief that we have a problem involving PPE and personnel contamination. 

Materials Needed: 

• Heavy duty clear poly bag, .04 mm thickness minimum, size large enough to fit one complete set of turnouts, including jacket, bunker pants, boot, helmet and gloves.

• (1) One roll of duct tape.

• Sunny day or artificial lighting that would generate enough heat inside the clear poly bag to produce an atmosphere, or... visible moisture on the walls of the bag.

• Colormetric tubes, e.g. Draeger or similar glass colormetric tubes specific for suspected products involved, such as cyanide, organic vapors and mists, etc.

There are several different colormetric tube options available.

How to Use The CBz Method for Determining PPE Contamination: Place all the firefighters PPE components, (jacket, bunker pants with suspenders and liners, boots, helmet, hood and gloves into a polybag with a minimal thickness of .04 mm to prevent accidental puncture. Anything less in thickness is not as durable and is much more likely to puncture the bag.

Note how the drum polybag liner has been inflated to illustrate how big it is. This is what your goal is with the PPE stored inside the bag. You want to enable enough free space to create an atmosphere inside the bag, which is visible by the presence of moisture droplets on the inner bag wall.

When you have allowed sufficient time for the bag to basically heat up, what you are waiting for is for whatever is inside the bag to "off gas", and hopefully, through the use of colormetric tubes, you can pinpoint your concerns based on the type of incident and the types of materials that are suspected, such as hydrocarbons, organic vapors, aromatics, cyanide, organophosphates, whatever... It give you more than an educated guess.

If you do confirm the presence of a hazardous material, have the ability to take digital photos, and consider having an assigned disposable camera that is only used to document the bagged turnouts as evidence, with photos of the colormetric readings validating your concerns.

You have also justified why you need to destroy some of the turnouts... The good news here is that this could save you from having to deal with the psychological panic from folks worrying that they were exposed to something when they weren't... 

This proposed procedure can give you a peace of mind... I look forward to hearing if there are others methods available as simple as this one to validate whether or not your PPE are actually contaminated.

Stay safe and feel free to rip off this idea, it's such a simple thing to do and prepare for. The question is, are you prepared? Duct tape, .04 mm 35 gal minimum sized polybags and a callout for the hazmat team, your environmental health department or the EPA if you don't have resources available. Answering the question whether there was contamination or not is imperative, especially if post incident, firefighters start to experience any kind of symptoms.

Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Be prepared...  


Not familiar with the Draeger pump?

The accuro manual gas detector pump is used for spot measurements with Dräger tubes. Measurements must often be taken in extreme conditions, such as up ladders, in shafts, or where heavy breathing protection is required. The accuro gas detector pump can easily be operated with one hand, and allows reliable measurements in locations that are difficult to access. The Dräger accuro is a bellows pump, with which the air sample is drawn through the Dräger tube using strokes. The body of the pump consists of a bellows, which is completely pushed together for the measurement. When the bellows is released, the air is drawn automatically and the gas sample to be measured is sucked through the tube being used. The sampling process is completed when the body of the pump has opened completely. The end of a stroke is indicated by a pressure-controlled display on the body of the Dräger accuro pump.

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How about a PID?
Would this also not apply to most meth labs? Meth uses a lot of the same chemical compounds and are just as dangerous. If they do then I would be very concerned with turnout gear being contaminated and deconned after each run.
A PID just tells you that something is present, it doesn't tell you what it is or what the hazard level - if any - is.

PIDs are not chemical-specific.
Prior to taking this much time and effort to test the gear, how about just doing a gross decon wash at the scene followed by washing the gear in an extractor washer according to the manufacturer's instructions?

That's going to greatly reduce the contamination levels of any hazardous substance in the gear unless the produce is either water-insoluble or if it has become chemically bound with the gear material. In the latter case, you're probably not going to be able to detect the hazard with non-destructive testing, as the product/gear compound will probably not off-gas enough to get accurate test readings.

The scenario that prompted my post included a number of firefighters post incident that were clearly affected by something, presumably involving pesticides and chemicals involved in a mobile home fire. Photos available online showed the firefighters in close proximity to the incident, not concerned about any type of exposure or run off issues.

It was not until after these photos were taken that firefighters started experiencing problems. No one looked compromised in these photos. Just another fire, right? Unfortunately, not all chemical exposures present themselves immediately. This incident had a delay apparently before symptoms started to appear...

My point here Ben was doing something immediately to confirm the presence of something that was an unknown at the time and producing deleterious effects on the firefighters. Doing a polybag test using Draeger tubes gives you visual reference using the colormetric tubes that can be photo documented and saved as evidence should that become necessary.

After you have confirmed or denied exposure, PPE can be cleaned accordingly.

I am curious in regard to some of the things that can permeate our PPE. Does the extraction washers guarantee 100% removal of pesticides and chemicals? Are there some things that cannot be removed? Not everyone, including my department has these top of the line washers. Somethings can be washed several times without removing odors and things that permeated the fabric.

Typical non-event structure fires with no one experiencing dizziness or any other symptoms post fire should without question be washed using extractor washers if the department can afford them. An event where firefighters were exposed to something changes the rules, This methodology provides a quick way to identify unknowns, using materials on hand and helping the incident commander make better choices.

Final Thought: Who's going to make the determination that the PPE is clean?

Running PPE through a washer, when the PPE were causative from the exposure is not very comforting. If you wash the PPE without testing it first, say goodbye to any evidence or proof that you were exposed to something in the first place... I think it's worth the time when dealing with a post incident event that produced symptoms to test the PPE to see what caused the problem. And if the PPE is contaminated, would you want to wear it?
How would the PPE be causative in the exposure? The PPE would seem to be an exposure vector, not the causative agent. That agent would be whatever product is present in the furniture, fabrics, and other materials at the scene, right? It would seem that a sample taken from anywhere the firefighters were would prove the product was present, not just in the TOG.

There is also the complicating factor that the polybags are themselves chemicals, and that they offgas hazardous vapors, especially when they are heated. During a polybag test, warm TOG can heat the polybags, as can ambient heat or direct sunlight. How are you going to determine what vapors come from TOG contamination and what vapors come from the polybags?

I'm not trying to dispute the potential value of testing gear if you have a known exposure and/or symptomatic firefighters, but this is a complex issue with no simple answer.

As for "who determines the gear is clean" the answer is "situational". That answer is going to vary depending on what the problem is, how bad it is, and local ability to conduct decon.

In the case you show in your photos, it's likely that destructive 3rd-party testing will be required to determine the level of contamination. That means the TOG will necessarily be replaced, regardless of whether it is actually clean or not.

• We are in agreement that the PPE was not causative to the exposure.
• The PPE is more like a piece of litmus paper.
• Things present post fire are nebulous at best. What I care about is what is on me, and again, in this case, connected somehow to symptoms appearing and presumably, stuff that somehow got past thermal barriers, oh wait, the photos showed the guys walking around the incident wearing tee shirts, sans any kind of awareness that there was hazardous materials present.
• The fact that there is no simple answer is the purpose of my original post. This methodology, while not exact, and requiring common sense things like not putting heated TOG's inside the bag and using things that many hazmat teams have as resources.
• Having actually done this before, and knowing that if you have a sunny day then all this works like a champ, it was very cool to see visual evidence (colormetric tube) coming up positive for organophosphates after dealing with a nursery fire involving chemicals and pesticides.
• To do destructive testing on everyone's TOG is not really very cost effective. Taking one set of TOG's, presumably from the "dirtiest" TOG's from the incident and conducting a polybag draeger test seems like a reasonable first step to give Chief officers the necessary information they need to enable informing involved firefighters that there is or is not a concern that their PPE is considered safe after a simple washing.
• Anything less in my mind makes the call subjective whether or not the TOG's are considered clean and not contaminated unless your extracting washer manufacturer guarantees the removal of all contaminants. Do they?
• The decision as to whether PPE were clean or not has all the potential for having union involvement if management overhead tell their personnel not to worry about it and just use their turnouts. Having an independent 3rd party evaluating the PPE and cleaning them may be necessary if step are not taken immediately to determine the presence of contamination.

So now what... we both agree, kind of here Ben. So I offer this solution:

Take a sample piece of PPE turnout gear and create a tag that can hang from the TOG. You would need two tags per firefighter. One tag would be chest level and the other by your boots. Should this type of incident occur, and you want to conduct a simple testing, take the small samples and place them into two separate zip log bags filled with air. Allow time for whatever could be penetrated into the PPE fabric to off-gas and test the material(s) for what you suspect using the Draeger Pump and Colormetric Tubes.

Just a thought... As always, love the conversation and learning from one another and others.

Happy Mothers Day!

Mike :D
Mike, I missed your posts here on the nation. I have been gone for a while and I miss the talks we had!

Ok, I read the post and the replies, and my head hurts...does that mean I have been exposed to anything? LOL
Good topic guys, both you and Ben are extremely knowledgeable people and I look forward to reading both of your posts when I see them. Thanks for sharing the information, now I have to go back to the firehouse and throw out all of our gear and order new stuff!! lol
Stay Safe everyone.
BZ this is why I have so many issues with photos of kids sitting on and playing with our turn out gear- there's some seriously nasty shit we're dealing with and being exposed to...

Just send the TOG to BZ's house - he'll wash it and test it for a "nominal" fee.
Mike, this is a great topic, although the firefighters near the burned structure, sans PPE makes this a little more complicated than your original scenario.

I'm thinking that the "probable worst contaminated" gear sample idea has a lot of merit.

One other thing - if the contaminent is something for which Drager makes a CMS chip, and if we (cough) have a CMS kit, then we don't need to do all of that Accuro Pump squeezing now, do we?

Bottom line - you don't just need two tags per firefighter, you need two complete sets of turnout gear.
LOL...We need new stuff anyway thanks to the 10 year rule. We are a small dept and only have enough gear to outfit the current interior FF's with a few spare suits, but all are 11, even 12 years old or more...We just purchased 3 suits for this year and can usually only buy 2 a year per our commissioners. Anyone have any extra laying around? Ill take the dirty stuff too!!! lol

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