Inside the Fire Service: The Importance of a Clean Set of Gear

Mar 22, 2022

Inside the Fire Service:

The Importance of a Clean Set of Gear

Written by: Julia Peterson, March 22, 2022

As a TCFP compliant department, Cypress Creek Fire Department (CCFD) must adhere to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) standard on selection, care, and maintenance of structural fire personal protective equipment.

The ensemble that firefighters don while responding to a major incident is referred to as "turnout" or “bunker gear”, this includes the coat, pants, hood, helmet, gloves, and boots. The bunker gear coat and pants are made up of an outer shell to protect the firefighter from the elements, a moisture barrier to keep the firefighter dry during suppression, and a thermal liner to keep the firefighter protected from extreme heat. Together, these three layers are called a composite.

The NFPA 1851 compliance requires that all gear be inspected once a year. This inspection process involves advanced cleaning, hydro-testing the moisture barrier, and repairing any damage found. This cleaning process also works to remove contaminants that contain carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals.

Turnout gear is vital to the safety of firemen, but if not cleaned and maintained properly, compromised gear can pose a major hazard to firefighters. Bunker gear is made from a unique blend of Nomex® and Kevlar® and is designed to withstand extreme heat. It must also be handled with extreme care to maintain its integrity. Gear should not only be inspected for contaminants and damage but care should be taken to keep UV light exposure to a minimum as it can be extremely damaging to the integrity of the fabric.

CCFD Captain Felix Smith explains that “We do our best to keep gear lockers from being close to garage doors in addition most of our bay light is LED which NFPA recommends in gear storage areas. We need to avoid having it in the bed of open pickup truck beds or in the back seat of a car where sunlight can shine on it. The best way we as members can help is when transporting gear your gear must be in a gear bag or tote.”

Along with protection from UV light, Cypress Creek Fire Department has taken several steps to help prevent cross-contamination and protect its firefighters from cancer-causing toxins. All CCFD bunker gear is sent to Lion Group Inc. for routine cleaning and maintenance. Once the gear has arrived at the Lion facility, it undergoes a multi-step inspection & cleaning process to ensure its quality.

Lion employees break down the gear, separating each layer of the composite to inspect for damage at every level. The outer layers of bunker gear are washed separately from moisture barriers and thermal liners to help prevent further contamination. After the wash, each piece is closely inspected and tested before moving on to the drying room. Bunker gear must be drip-dried rather than put into a dryer. Tumbling a set of bunker gear in a clothes dryer would cause unnecessary damage to the Kevlar and Nomex fabric, quickly diminishing its lifespan.

All repairs are logged and completed by a team of seamsters and seamstresses. Cleaning and repairs are done by hand to preserve the integrity of the gear.

Nidia of Lion Group Inc. shared that she and her team in South Houston “think about the fact that this firefighter might be saving [their] life in the middle of the night someday” while working with a set of gear. It’s this way of thinking that sets Lion apart from other companies and why CCFD is a proud Lion Group Inc customer.

Additionally, in 2021, the department successfully outfitted all its members with 2 complete sets of bunker gear. This was done so that when one set is dirtied, it can be bagged & cleaned while the second set is ready to go in service, free of damage and toxic chemicals.

Making sure that turnout gear is clean and damage-free is one of the many steps firefighters must take to protect themselves from the immediate and long-term dangers of fighting fire.