Although most people think a wildland firefighter’s workday gets started when they approach a fire, many responsibilities occupy their time. Mitigation work, Rx burning and a host of other activities often keep firefighters from spending time looking after their gear.
Wildland firefighters are basically covered head-to-toe with safety gear. All that equipment returns from a fire much worse for wear than it did going in. Wildland firefighters need to educate themselves on how to look after these vital tools of their trade. Here are some tips for maintaining wildland firefighting gear.
Just like any other kind of gear, a wildland firefighter’s personal protective equipment (PPE) must go through basic repair and cleaning. If there are flammable chemicals attached to the gear, they must immediately be removed and cleaned using intense, meticulous washing designed to remove the imbedded contaminants.
Though wildland firefighting gear can be left with industrial laundering services or even washed at home, there are some major advantages to the former. Laundering services are well-versed in the techniques for cleaning wildland PPE. This isn’t always an easy service to find locally, which is why consumer laundering product, designed to remove carbon from garments, like Citro Squeeze® is available to the individual.
If you think you need to make repairs to gear, look at the manufacturer’s standards to see if the problem is at least repairable. If it looks like a repair must be made, work with your employer or the retailer to contact the garment manufacturer for the proper procedure. Keep in mind, you may need your original receipt or invoice.
Benefits of Modern Wildland Firefighting
In the past, it was common for firefighters to confront fires in filthy, unwashed clothing. Sometimes seen as a badge of honor to wear your sweaty, sooty clothes—and a way to show you were the one doing strong work. More recently, we’ve come to understand the dangers of this behavior.
Wildland firefighters can retain biological and chemical residue on their gear. These toxins can be absorbed through the skin and go into a firefighter’s body. Because of this risk, some woodland (forestry and wildland) firefighting administrations now provide their firefighters with two supplies of FR gear and commercial-grade laundry equipment in-house, specially designed to handle their clothing.
With the extra set of clothing always at the ready and useful laundry services to keep them sanitary, wildland firefighters today are in a much better place to handle the demands of their jobs than they were in years past. Worried about over-washing? Don’t be. Modern materials like Tecasafe® and NOMEX® are designed so that the fibers they are made from are inherently fire resistant. They are not treated cotton like the days of old.
How To Store Wildland PPE
Storage must have strong ventilation to avoid dampness and humidity. As a general rule, you should never house PPE where it’s exposed to the sun. (See above.) This is especially true of thermoplastics and FR garments.
Wildland PPE should not be stored or worn at home. Just as structural “bunker gear” needs to be quarantined, wildland PPE could become exposed to contaminants that affect the fabric.
Wildland firefighters must conduct regular inspections to make sure their gear is safe to use. Poorly maintained or neglected PPE equipment could put the firefighter and their colleagues in danger.
When It’s Time To Replace Wildland PPE
An item of wildland PPE must be replaced if it was severely contaminated, or it met the criteria laid out by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) 1851/ 2020 edition. Note: Following those guidelines, PPE components cannot remain in service 10 years after they were manufactured.
You can determine the quality and longevity of wildland PPE by looking at a few key factors, including:
- Dilapidation in the fabric or gear materials.
- Contaminants that won’t be removed from the gear.
- Compromised gear performance (due to soil buildup or other elements.)
- The assumed lifespan of the components
Fire departments follow the objective criteria provided by NFPA 1851 to decide when and if wildland PPE should be thrown away. Single resources need to follow these guidelines as well.
Looking After Your Wildland Firefighter Boots
Looking after wildland firefighter boots isn’t dissimilar from looking after any other kind of leather work boots. Just like normal work boots, you’ll need some preservatives and cleaning products to keep them going strong.
Since wildland firefighters deal with steam, acid from sweat and caustic chemicals, they need their cleaning products made from stronger stuff than the average person. You’ll want to get some heavy-duty leather preservatives and leather oil products.
Clean the boots when they’re covered in dust and dirt by brushing away the larger debris and then washing them using saddle soap, light dish soap or leather cleaner. Hydrating the leather is important but do not use rendered fats as a preservative as they can rot your boots. Use a heavy-duty, beeswax-based preservative by buffing approximately one ounce across the surface of the pair of boots. It should be spread evenly. Let the boots dry for an hour and wipe away whatever is left over.
Wildland firefighters endure messy, back-breaking work. They trudge through mud, ash and foliage while caked in their own sweat, pushing their bodies further and further past most people’s physical limitations. It’s no wonder they return from their shifts completely covered in soot and other potentially dangerous substances.
Nobody gets into firefighting so they can look after gear. Even so, cleaning and maintaining wildland equipment are a necessary part of the job. Without a stable, clean supply of gear, wildland firefighters wouldn’t be able to manage catastrophes with reliable efficiency.