Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control

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Exposure to chemical and biological contaminants on the fire ground is an increasing concern for long-term fire fighter health. Cancer and other diseases resulting from chronic exposures has become a leading concern for the fire service. This is presumed to be associated with fireground exposures relating to protection/hygiene practices and persistent harmful contamination found in fire fighter equipment, apparatus carrying that equipment, and stations where the equipment resides.

Research goal and objectives: The overall goal of this project is to develop and facilitate the outreach of an educational campaign to control the spread of harmful fire ground contaminants, ultimately in support of improved fire fighter long-term health. This will be accomplished by identifying and addressing stakeholder gaps for the control of contaminants adversely impacting fire fighter health through a process of generating, clarifying and prioritizing specific recommended best practices. A key activity in support of this goal and objectives is a workshop to address this topic. This effort is funded by an AFG Fire Prevention & Safety Grant.

Download the project summary. (PDF)

Synopsis of workshop and future efforts

The workshop in Columbus, OH was held in July 2017 with 63 emergency responder, fire protection and research professionals to assess proposed communication and awareness tools to be used in a Fire Service Contamination Control Campaign. The workshop was organized into different segments over afternoon and morning sessions to cover specific approaches for minimizing fire fighter exposure to a range of hazardous contaminants, known to create both acute and chronic health and safety issues. 

Proposed campaign tools addressed by the workshop included:

  • A comprehensive, detailed white paper, highlighting the extent of contamination control issues and best practices
  • An interactive, searchable literature database on specific research articles and reports on contamination control
  • A standards resource database indicating requirements in existing and prospective standards related to contamination control and calendarizing important Public Input and Public Comment deadlines
  • An updatable best practices database that includes references for suggested multiple approaches that can be implemented at different levels within the fire service
  • Related industry vignettes that highlight practices for controlling contamination in other industry applications featuring healthcare, nuclear power, and hazardous materials remediation
  • A question/answer forum for providing open industry communication on relevant contamination topics
  • An agreed upon glossary of applicable terminology

Each attendee was given an extensive questionnaire that was completed and turned in before the end of the workshop. Input was solicited related to how attendees would use the tools, what they expect the tools to provide, and how the final product could be improved based on what was presented during the workshop. Notes were taken to capture discussion and results are being compiled for the final report and recommendations. The Fire Protection Research Foundation expects to publish a detailed report that compiles the workshop findings by the end of August.

Workshop slides

Slides used by the workshop presenters are separately available as follows:

In addition, the project team is creating a detailed set of recommendations and action plan for implementing the different proposed contamination control communications and awareness tools based on attendee feedback and other new information. This report will be available at the end of September.

Workshop initial conclusions

  • There is consensus that repeated exposures to contamination at the fire scene, combined with the subsequent post fire scene exposures to contaminated clothing, tools, apparatus, and stations are likely causing increased rates of cancer in fire fighters. Moreover, cancer diagnoses are happening earlier in a fire fighter’s life with unusual, rarer forms of cancers are being diagnosed.
  • There is consensus that contamination has broader negative effects on health than just cancer. A number of other chronic health disorders could be related to broad, continuing chemical exposures. There are also increasing concerns for biological exposures in the form of drug-resistant bacteria and various infectious diseases.
  • The audience for this type of campaign should include fire fighters (both structural and wildland/forestry), fire officers, fire marshals, fire investigators, public safety officers, emergency medical technicians, others engaged in evolving fire service operations, as well as the fire and emergency services PPE, apparatus and equipment industry.
  • The focus of contamination control has to extend beyond the fireground or emergency scene. Contamination should be removed from clothing, tools, and equipment before leaving the scene. Organizations need to take immediate action to prevent transport of contaminants and limit contaminants, at stations and other facilities, as well as contact with the public.
  • The proposed tools should increase awareness across the entire fire and emergency services, including line fire fighters, as well as members in leadership and support roles. These tools should also encourage the fire and emergency services PPE, apparatus, and equipment industry to responsibly respond with improved design, new technology products, and services.
  • Any recommended best practices need to attain a minimum standard of contamination control. They should also include a variety of different approaches that allow implementation of changes in equipment and procedures that can be adopted by all fire and emergency services organizations (career, combination, and combination) based on their level of resources. 
  • The likely platform for disseminating these communications and awareness tools is a dedicated website; however, comprehensive approaches are needed to ensure that currently available information is made accessible and can be updated as increased research and findings are provided.

About the project team

  • Casey Grant and Alex Ing – Executive Director and Research Associate for the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an independent nonprofit whose mission is to plan, manage and communicate research in support of the NFPA mission
  • Jeffrey Stull – President of International Personnel Protection, Inc., a research and testing company specializing in personal protective equipment design, development, evaluation and standardization
  • Marni Schmid – Principal of Fortunes Collide Marketing and Business Consulting, LLC, a marketing and planning company associated with fire service safety and research projects
  • Peg Paul and Julie Reynolds – Director and Marketing Specialist for Peg Paul & Associates, a marketing communications agency that specializes in developing and implementing multi-integrated information and education campaigns
  • Robert Tutterow – President of Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.), an organization dedicated to promoting collaboration within the fire service for furthering health and safety awareness 
Guest speakers
  • Paul Erickson – Architect, LeMay Erickson Willcox Architects (Reston, Virginia), experienced fire station architect, developer and promoter of Hot Zone Design
  • Dave Bernzweig – Battalion Chief for the Columbus Fire Department, member of IAFF Local 67, and member of NFPA Technical Committee on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program (i.e., NFPA 1500 series standards)
  • Beth Gallup – Captain, Kent (Washington) Fire Department, Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, contributor to “Healthy In, Healthy Out” (a publication funded by a grant from the State of Washington, Department of Labor and Industries)