Personnel Rehab & Decontamination
It never used to be this way. Firefighters back in the day would return to the firehouse with soot on their bunker gear and dried blood on their skin and wear both as a badge of honor. Personnel would balk at having to clean their helmets because all that char was a "battle scar" like the paint streaks that festooned the helmets of football players.
Today, both athletes and firefighters have seen the consequences of these practices, and have realized and experienced the detrimental health effects. Football rules no longer permit helmet-to-helmet contact because of the number of cases of traumatic brain injury. The fire service has learned with scientific accuracy that the stained areas on our gear continue to emit dangerous carcinogens even after a fire, and in numerous cases have been linked to cancer. Medical research has unveiled a plethora of virus and disease transmitted via body fluids, to the extent that bloodborne pathogen training is now a required portion of most EMT certification training and re-certification.
Both these professions have a serious investment in the talent of their people. Both infer a certain level of risk of injury and detriment to health. And both have learned the hard lessons from past practices that did not place a priority on the personnel involved.
There are (mostly retired) firefighters today that will tell you about placing their bunker pants and boots by their bedside at the station so they could be quickly donned before sliding the pole to the apparatus floor. If you walked into a firehouse dormitory, you could smell the remnants of their most recent fire. There are some departments where personnel wore their fire gear all day while sitting, standing, walking around the living quarters, and even during meals in the kitchen.
In Central Ohio we are fortunate to have a dedicated cadre of fire buffs and retired firefighters who staff and respond to emergency incidents with three specialized rehab units. These come equipped with hot and cold beverages, pop-up tents, chairs, artificial cooling devices, and decontamination showers. Known collectively as "Box 15", they voluntarily provide an essential service to emergency responders at all hours of the day and night.
Today decontamination of firefighting gear and EMS equipment begins before returning to the firehouse. Bunker gear is hosed down at the scene and medical equipment is cleaned at the hospital and in the back of the medic unit.
Some fire departments, including Worthington, are fortunate enough to have backup bunker gear in our inventory. This allows our firefighters to swap-out upon return to the firehouse and immediately place their front-line gear in our industrial washers to remove the soot and char.
Our procedures also require personnel to take showers after returning from any kind of incident where there has been exposure to contaminants.
Finally, we provide an "exposure book" to each firefighter to keep a written record of their physical contact with any hazardous material.