Protecting Firefighters with an Innovative Decontamination Process
Published: 12/14/2020
Author: Chief Mike Duyck (Ret.), President, Emergency Technical Decon

Before Dr. Joseph Lister popularized the idea of sterilizing before surgery, doctors arrived at the operating theatre in their street clothes and put on their surgical gowns covered in dried blood and pus, like military stripes on an army uniform. Without washing their hands, they picked up used scalpels and tore into flesh, inadvertently causing the deaths of up to 50% of their patients. After Lister, deaths during surgery dropped to 15%. Today, no medical professional doubts the efficacy of clean gear in saving lives and when better methods of cleaning are developed, they are rapidly embraced. No longer are dirty surgical gowns seen as signs of pride, but as irresponsible causes of great harm.

In the last two decades, firefighting professionals have also recognized the need for gear that is as clean as humanly possible. Last year the National Institute of Health published a study which confirmed what many firefighting professionals already knew: semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) can cause cancer, reproductive disorders, nervous system damage, and immune system disorders. They “pose a significant threat to environmental and human health due to their persistence, carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, and toxicity.”*  Currently the National Fire Protection Research Foundation is conducting a series of studies and has shown through previous and current research that the typical detergent / water extractor wash performed on firefighter’s PPE was between 15-40% effective in removing SVOCs and PAHs. The residue left on firefighter’s gear after even a relatively mild structure fire can potentially cause a range of long-term deleterious health conditions. When one firefighter succumbed to cancer last year, his family was awarded a worker’s compensation claim of one million dollars. Many experts believe such claims are likely to increase exponentially in the future. 

Luckily, the degree to which PPE can be cleaned has just gotten much better. Recent studies have shown that liquid CO2 cleaning removes SVOCs and PAHs to undetectable levels. CO2 cleaning is not a new, untested process; it has been used for more than two decades by dry cleaners due to its ability to preserve clothing and clean it more efficiently. Now CO2 cleaning is available for firefighter PPE, at a cost which is comparable to current methods. More importantly, this innovative approach has the potential to save thousands of lives, protecting the firefighters who risk their lives every time they go on a call. If you would like more information about how your department can significantly decrease the chances of future health problems for your firefighting professionals, contact us at Emergency Technical Decon,


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