Volunteer Firefighter International

UL Studies Effect of Washing on Firefighter PPE

The published study shows repeated laundering compromised the strength and protective properties of firefighting PPE

By Gavin Horn, UL

The U.S. fire service has become acutely aware of the need to clean PPE after fires. However, there is concern that damage from repeated cleaning may impact critical protection on the fireground risk. The Impact of Repeated Exposure and Cleaning on Protective Properties of Structural Firefighting Turnout Gear peer-reviewed, archival journal article summarizes the impact of repeated smoke exposures from household combustibles followed by different cleaning techniques (laundering, wet decontamination, dry decontamination) on critical performance characteristics of NFPA 1971 Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting compliant PPE.

Using mannequins and a controlled Fireground Exposure Simulator (FES) prop that was designed to simulate fireground thermal and chemical environments, PPE was exposed to up to 40 cycles of smoke and heat followed by cleaning (exposure and cleaning). Specimens were collected from consistent locations on each coat after 10, 20 and 40 cycles of exposure/cleaning (Figure 1). NFPA 1971 standard tests related to mechanical, thermal and penetration properties were conducted on these samples and compared to new control samples, and samples that were only laundered (i.e. no exposures).

Important take home messages from this paper:

  1. Repeated laundering reduced tear strength of the outer shell (Figure 2) and thermal barrier compared to the new samples and more so than wet or dry decontamination treatments.
  2. After 40 laundering cycles, outer shell tear strength and seam strength drops below NFPA 1971 required levels set for new PPE.
  3. Wet soap decontamination was negatively associated with moisture barrier seam strength but did not increase char length.
  4. HL was reduced for all samples with a cleaning treatment while TPP was only increased in the treatments that included a laundering treatment.
  5. PPE built with hook & dee closures had lower outer shell tear strength and reduced performance in the liquid penetration test.

This manuscript is derived from our PPE Cleaning study, a component of the larger Cardiovascular & Chemical Exposure Risks in Today’s Fire Service project.

UL FSRI partnered with NIOSH, Globe fire suits (now MSA), and IFSI to conduct this research. Funding for this project was provided by the Department of Homeland Security Fire Prevention and Safety Grant #EMW-2015-FP-00646.

Read the full study here.

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