Safety Corner

NFPA 1851’s New Paragraph – Preliminary Exposure Reduction

The 2020 update to NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles includes a new paragraph titled, “Preliminary Exposure Reduction”.  In previous versions of the standard, this paragraph was titled, “Routine Cleaning”.  The NFPA Technical Committee deserves some recognition for this update.  Additions and modifications to this newly titled paragraph will improve the longevity of our personal protective equipment, but more importantly, it will significantly improve firefighter health and safety by minimizing our exposure to cancer-causing agents.  By now, every firefighter should be aware of the long-term health effects we face when we do not clean our gear properly.  Several studies have been conducted that identify the level of contaminants to which our gear is exposed during firefighting operations. 

The updated paragraph on preliminary exposure reduction identifies three mitigation techniques; dry, water only, and soap and water.  The mitigation technique each department chooses may be based on the availability of resources.  However, Fent et al. identified that cleaning the gear with soap and water after exiting the emergency scene was 85% effective at removing the aromatic hydrocarbons. 

The updated standard identifies that the firefighter should remain on SCBA throughout the gear cleaning process.  This is to minimize her exposure to the airborne contaminants.  Upon exiting the emergency scene, the firefighter should proceed directly to the cleaning area where she may go through a dry cleaning process.  This is where a fellow firefighter will use a dry brush to wipe away any large debris that may have fallen onto her gear.  Next, the firefighter will be sprayed down using low pressure, low volume of water, likely a garden hose nozzle adapted to a discharge off the apparatus.  Then, the firefighter’s gear will be brushed off using a soft bristle brush with a water and mild detergent solution.  Finally, the firefighter will be rinsed off using the same low pressure, low volume water supply. 

The supplies for this process include a bucket, garden hose with nozzle, soft bristle brush, and a 2.5” NST to garden hose adapter.  An online search shows all the materials can be purchased at a local hardware store for $30 to $35.  However, many fire stations may have these supplies already on hand. 

The process takes only a few minutes and removes 85% of the contaminants.  While our world seems to be getting more and more complex, this wet mitigation technique sure seems like a simple process to significantly reduce firefighter exposures.  I hope this information is helpful.  If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at the Brayton Fire Training Field. 

Howard Meek CSP, CFPS

Environmental, Health, and Safety Manager

With help from: Nick Hickson

HazMat Training Manager

Works Cited

Kenneth W. Fent, Barbara Alexander, Jennifer Roberts, Shirley Robertson, Christine Toennis, Deborah Sammons, Stephen Bertke, Steve Kerber, Denise Smith & Gavin Horn (2017) Contamination of firefighter personal protective equipment and skin and the effectiveness of decontamination procedures, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 14:10, 801-814, DOI: 10.1080/15459624.2017.1334904


by Howard Meek, ESTI Environmental, Health, and Safety Manager

Ask any number of folks their opinions of how to improve safety in the fire service and you are likely to hear many different opinions.  That’s because the problem of improving safety performance in emergency services can be a monumental task.  There’s no doubt that when a department experiences a significant event, such as a serious injury or fatality, there’s a sense of urgency to improve.   But why do we wait until we experience the event?  Why can’t we learn from others and prevent any occurrence to our personnel?  And how on earth do we even get started on the opportunities for improvement? 

An important place to start is to address the definition of an unwanted, significant event.  All fire and emergency service personnel will likely say that a Line of Duty Death fits the definition.  Some may even say an injury requiring a hospital stay, or a Mayday call, are unwanted, significant events.  But how many of us would say that all injuries or motor vehicle accidents should count as unwanted, significant events?

During my career, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some great organizations doing research on how to improve organizational safety performance and culture.  One such organization, the Construction Users Roundtable, established their “Guiding Principles for Safety” in 2004; with some slight modifications, I think their foundational principles apply equally well to what we do in the fire service.

  1. No work-related injury, illness, or damage to property or the environment is acceptable.
  2. Departments should work to prevent all such injury, illness, or damage.
  3. A department will achieve whatever performance level it is willing to accept.
  4. “Zero incidents” is the only justifiable goal. 

I realize this may go against what many of us have learned over the years.  We’ve been taught that firefighting is a dangerous profession and injuries are just part of the job.  But if you’re like me, then you’ve seen all the firefighter injury and death you want to see.  It’s time for us to take a stand and realize we can do better.  We must do better. Can your department agree to the principles above?  Can you personally agree to them?  Join us on a journey in future articles as we highlight ways to improve firefighter safety performance.  Let us never forget our motto. “Everyone Goes Home”.