There is a growing body of evidence that a toxic cocktail of substances may linger on PPE after a fire and intensify the on-the-job risks. Firefighting is a life-threatening job, with every shift bringing dangerous incidents such as fires, floods, storms and road traffic collisions. Alongside risks including heat exhaustion, burns and mental stress, other less visible hazards pose a threat to firefighter safety. Firefighters may be exposed to high levels of toxic substances during and after a fire, as cancer-causing chemicals remain on PPE clothing and elsewhere at the fire ground.
Fires produce a cocktail of toxic, irritant and carcinogenic chemicals in the form of aerosols, dusts, fibres, smoke and fumes or gases and vapours, increasing cancer risks and lung deterioration. However, decontamination and cleaning procedures en-route to, during, and after a fire can reduce, minimise or eliminate exposure hazards.
Global functional footwear expert HAIX is sharing its advice on thoroughly cleaning and decontaminating its firefighter boots to help prevent a build-up of dangerous contaminants and protect wearer safety.
The Impact of Hazardous Chemicals and Substances on Protective Footwear
Many fire combustion products, including hydrocarbons, polynuclear aromatic compounds, metals such as cadmium and chromium, and acids and soot, are hazardous to firefighters. These substances can become embedded in footwear, penetrate the inner layer, and enter the body. In addition, particulates and other combustion products can reduce the flame resistance of footwear and its ability to conduct electricity. Wearers must clean their footwear thoroughly to reduce the risk of long-term harm from hazardous substances present in fire combustion products or chemicals.
Wearers exposed to hazardous chemicals and pathogens need to follow the relevant cleaning and decontamination precautions in line with legal regulations to limit exposure and risk of harm to themselves and others. Anyone involved in the handling, sorting, bagging, transporting, and laundering of contaminated footwear must wear utility gloves and appropriate PPE to prevent exposure.
When to Clean and Decontaminate HAIX Boots
Wearers should clean their footwear at least every six months or as soon as possible after contamination or exposure to smoke, blood or body fluids, hazardous substances or hazardous liquid chemicals. If exposure has occurred, workers should stop using their boots until cleaned and disinfected.
How to Clean and Decontaminate HAIX Boots
- Use protective gloves when handwashing HAIX footwear in a utility sink with warm water and a wet shoe brush, avoiding scrubbing because this can cause abrasion of the boots
- Use mild washing-up liquid and water with a temperature less than 110° F
- Choose a disinfectant spray with an EPA 4 toxicity rating that does not use alcohol, bleach or other toxic chemicals
- Remove and wash the insole in a machine with cold water on a delicate cycle
- Air-dry boots on a rack to provide maximum air exposure and reduce drying time
- Clean HAIX footwear separately from other items to avoid the spread of chemical contamination or hazardous combustion products
- For footwear with a rist protector such as the HAIX Fire Eagle, Fire Hero and Airpower XR91, loosen and then clean the protector
- Don’t use saddle soaps or soaps that contain fats
- Don’t use bleach or chlorinated detergents as even small amounts of these detergents can reduce the boot’s protective qualities
- Don’t dry footwear in direct/indirect sunlight, fluorescent light, a tumble dryer, in front of open windows, hot ovens or radiators because ‘fast drying’ will change the shape of the shoe
- Don’t use high-velocity power washers or pressure hoses for washing footwear. These tools can severely damage the raw materials and seams, compromising the protection of the footwear
Simon Ash, HAIX UK Sales Manager, comments, “Firefighters exercise courage in times of fear, heroism in times of danger and dedication when their communities need them most. Being in the profession of helping others means their lives often rest in the balance. While nothing can one-hundred per cent guarantee the elimination of toxic chemicals from footwear, we hope our guidance will help to protect firefighter safety while they continue to protect ours.”
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Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, International Fire Buyer
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922