Editor's Note: The National Volunteer Fire Council's National Firefighter Health Week runs August 16-20. It's an annual week-long initiative held each August to educate the fire and emergency services community and the public about a variety of health and wellness issues that affect first responders. Tuesday's topic of focus is personal protective equipment. In addition to the NVFC's tip below, be sure to check out our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel's take in PPE basics: What's your excuse for not wearing it? as well as the NVFC's special Health Week page.
By the NVFC
One of the NVFC's Firefighter Health and Safety Priorities for departments is: Provide and require the proper use of full personal protective equipment (PPE).
There are obvious safety reasons for wearing full PPE correctly every time, but there are also important health reasons. Proper use of PPE protects you from inhaling potentially dangerous smoke, debris, and toxins, which could otherwise cause significant harm to your lungs, respiratory system, and general health. PPE also protects your skin so that you don't absorb harmful particles and toxins through your skin. Protecting your head with a helmet can prevent head injuries that could lead to acute or chronic health conditions.
The benefits of wearing PPE fully and properly when responding to incidents or participating in certain training activities are numerous. So are the dangers that come with not protecting yourself with PPE. In addition to wearing PPE correctly, you must make sure the PPE is in good condition and properly maintained.
Use this day of National Firefighter Health Week to focus on the benefits of PPE, and impart to department members the critical nature of fully wearing and properly maintaining PPE. Create a culture within your department where proper and full use of PPE is standard and anything less is unacceptable. Make sure the leaders of the department lead by example. Take responsibility for your health and safety and Respond Strong.
What you can do today
Adopt the NVFC's Health and Safety Priorities in your department, and use this day of Health Week to focus on the Equipment B.E.S.T. Practices: "Provide and require the proper use of full personal protective equipment" and "Maintain all equipment based on established safety recommendations."
Let your members know that they must use their SCBA fully and properly every time. Safety equipment doesn't work if it's not being used. Hang flyers, signs, or posters at the station to remind members that this is the policy of the department.
Hold a drill on donning your PPE to make sure everyone knows exactly what needs to happen when the next call comes in.
Conduct an inspection of all of your station's equipment and determine which items need to be replaced sooner rather than later. It may not be possible to upgrade everything right now, but make a plan for securing the most needed equipment now and develop a schedule for equipment that will need to be replaced in the future. Ensuring every piece of equipment is working effectively keeps you safer.
Review with all members how to properly maintain, clean, and store each piece of PPE and remind them they need to follow these procedures every time.
Encourage every member of your department to take advantage of free online PPE trainings and webinars, some of which are listed in the resource section of this page.
Make sure all of your respirators are clean and in working order.
Visit the NVFC's Health Week page on PPE for a list of full resources and links to assist you and your department