This past week in Columbus, OH a milestone workshop was held that is destined to have long-term influence on the fire service of today and tomorrow. This was the Workshop for the “Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control”, which is a one year research project administered by the Fire Protection Research Foundation. The workshop also included additional focus on two other related Foundation research projects: “Fire Fighter Cancer Cohort Study” and “PPE Cleaning Validation”.
Why is this a big deal? Within the fire service, not using SCBA and wearing soiled PPE have long been considered badges of toughness and bravery. But for a growing number of fire service members, this perception has been deadly. Fire fighters who for years didn’t regularly wear SCBA or clean their personal protective equipment (PPE) after returning from fire fighting incidents have developed various forms of cancer and other long-term illnesses. This includes young fire fighters with far fewer years of contaminant exposure, as well as perceived clustering of rare forms of cancer.
The Columbus Workshop brought together approximately 60 people from diverse stakeholder groups. There were representatives from all parts of the fire service, researchers, regulators, health and safety officers, Independent Service Providers (ISPs), equipment providers, among others. This is an important issue, and there is a growing interest across the fire service to help positively move the needle.
The Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control is focused on instilling contamination control as an A to Z concept, similar to other sectors that already rigorously address contamination control (e.g., health care, military, nuclear power, etc.). This should not be something that is only an afterthought from the fire ground. The specific goal of the workshop was to inform the design of a proposed on-line, interactive, information clearinghouse, and to address the related tools that are being developed to assist the fire service in limiting the spread of harmful fire ground contaminants, with the ultimate goal of improving fire fighter long-term health.
The workshop focused on optimum best practices, design of fire stations and equipment, applicable codes and standards, targeted literature database for researchers, and similar topics. For example, one presentation addressed the issue of fire station design and how it serves a pivotal role in contamination control and health and wellness of fire fighters. Fire fighters spend extensive time in stations that significantly magnifies their exposures. Presently, NFPA standards have minimal information on fire station design to reduce or eliminate exposure to contaminants.
The Columbus Workshop was a whirlwind of rich information, progressive activity, and dedicated passion. In late summer, the Proceedings from the Workshop will be made available and posted at the Foundation’s web page at: www.nfpa.org/Contamination. This effort was encouraging and we are making progress, but the challenges remain enormous and in truth the work is just beginning.