There are approximately 1.2 million firefighters in the United States. In addition to fighting fires, they also participate in various tasks including emergency rescues, providing emergency medical care, driving, operating and maintaining fire vehicles and other apparatuses and continued training. During the course of their duties, firefighters are often exposed to carcinogenic chemicals that may accumulate on their turnout clothing. To determine if these chemicals can be removed and to measure the efficacy of current cleaning protocols, a study was developed to assess these protocols which call for a maximum water temperature of 105°F and no solvents. The results showed that volatile and small semi-volatile chemicals such as dimethyl phthalate and chlorinated phenols had cleaning efficiencies of 85% or greater. However, for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the cleaning efficiency was only 20% to 50%. To determine if it is possible to remove the more persistent PAHs, temperatures were increased to 125°F and 140°F, and a respective increase in cleaning efficiencies of the PAHs was seen. The protocols were then adapted to add a pre-soak cycle which, when combined with the increased temperatures, resulted in an increase of the PAH cleaning efficiency range from 50 to 80%, compound dependent. This work provides a starting point for discussions between the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other standards organization and manufacturers to determine if increased temperatures and chemical soaks would be detrimental to gear as they are currently not advised.
Forester CD and Tarley J. 2023. Effects of Temperature and Advanced Cleaning Practices on the Removal of Select Organic Chemicals from Structural Firefighter Gear. Fire Technology 59, pages 2127–2145 (2023).