I've worn corrective lenses since I was in the second grade. So I know a thing or two about the affect of having glass between me and what I see in the outside world. It always amazes me how much even a small amount of dust on my glasses or a smudge in the wrong place can distort my vision.
The same is true for the windshield of your fire apparatus, especially during winter. Winter weather throws plenty of insults at the windshields of emergency-response apparatus: frozen precipitation, roadway de-icing agents, sand, grit, etc.
In order to see your best, it is imperative that you take care of your windshield. It may be the simplest piece of equipment on your apparatus, and it may be the most valuable.
"We need to take due care to not become an emergency ourselves. Remember, an accident only takes seconds to happen but can take a lifetime to recover from," said Jim Dodge, former captain and ambulance director for the Pittsfield (N.H.) Fire & Rescue.
It sounds like common sense, right? Well, as a former boss of mine, Carol Johnson, was fond of saying, "Common sense is a requirement for this job. But unfortunately it's not a prerequisite." It's hard to argue with that one.
Cleaning tips 1. Keep the wiper blades clean or they will smear debris and water instead of removing them. Wiping them down with a small amount of WD-40 or silicone on a rag can extend the life of the blade. Believe it or not, WD-40 works; the primary ingredient is fish oil.
2. Keep cans of windshield deicer spray and large ice scrappers on the apparatus during winter months. Always deice the windshield manually prior to using the wipers. Attempting to remove ice with the wipers will damage the blades and their ability to clean effectively.
3. Keep the dash as clear as possible so that the defroster vents are effectively blowing on the windshield.
4. Keep the defrosters blowing even if you have to open the side windows to stay comfortable.
5. Apply Rain-X or similar product to glass to improve its ability to shed water.
6. Follow manufacturer's recommendations for proper windshield washer solution. There is a temperature difference between winter and summer dilution ratios.
7. If heavy frozen precipitation is falling, place a tarp or piece of cardboard over the windshield while the apparatus is on scene — make sure you're carrying a tarp or cardboard for this purpose.
8. Only clean glass that is cool to the touch, never hot. This will help prevent the glass cleaner from drying too quickly on the surface, making window cleaning a pain.
9. Use different strokes for the interior and exterior. For example, use vertical strokes on the interior side of the glass and horizontal strokes on the exterior side; you can easily tell which side of the window needs to be cleaned again.
10. For an eco-friendly approach to cleaning glass, use newspaper. Use one piece of newspaper for each side window, and two pieces for the rear and windshield. Then buff each window with a clean piece of newspaper.
11. Break large windows such as the windshield into two or more manageable chucks while cleaning. This prevents your towel from becoming overly soiled and causing streaks from not removing dirt, but just spreading it around.
Good glass care starts with your cleaning cloth. A best practice is to use clean, soft cloths that you only use for cleaning apparatus glass. Better cleaning, higher quality and longer-lasting towels have been made possible with the development of microfibers.
With a diameter approximately 1/100th of a human hair, microfiber is an extremely small, synthetic fiber primarily constructed from a blend of two materials, polyester and polyamide. Microfibers can be used for a wide variety of uses depending upon the ratio at which these materials are blended.
For cleaning towels, the blend ratio provides the material's characteristics such as softness, toughness, absorption, breathability and durability. The blend ratios are expressed in terms of the percentage of polyester/polyamide used — most microfiber towels are blended 80/20, 75/25 or 70/30. As the ratio of the polyamide (the second number in the ratio) increases so does the towels softness and plushness.
With proper care and cleaning, microfiber cloths will last longer and provide better service when cleaning apparatus glass.
Keep stains and dirt from drying into the towel by having a bucket handy with a small amount of detergent and warm water to pre-soak your cloths after use. This also helps you keep track of where your towels are after use and to make sure they aren't on the ground or another dirty surface.
Any water temperature is fine for washing microfiber, but warmer water is better at removing stains. Be sure that you don't wash microfiber cloths with regular laundry because the towels attract lint from your other clothes.
Select a laundry detergent that without a softener. And never use fabric softeners, as they clog the pores of the fiber and ruin the towel. Never use bleach; its harshness will damage the fiber and ruin the towel.
Add a half of cup of distilled white vinegar during the final rinse cycle to eliminate any left over detergent residue from the towels. Vinegar is a natural fabric softener, which will help to keep your towels as soft as the day you bought them.
When drying clean towels, make sure the dryer is free of any debris and the lint catcher is empty. Microfiber is a lint free towel and due to its ability to grab and trap particles it makes no exception for trapping lint.
Also, avoid using dryer sheets as they degrade the towels' positive charge and can cause them to be statically charged. And dry microfiber cloths by themselves using the dryer's tumble dry or lowest heat setting.
Doing so will also help your microfiber towels to reach their life expectancy of 500 washings. Polyester, one of the components of the fiber, is heat sensitive and has a tendency to melt even on medium heat setting.
Glass cleaning agents
The second important component of your glass-cleaning cadre is the cleaning solution. When viewed under a microscope, glass is not smooth. All glass has microscopic grooves and valleys that can collect water, dirt and oil.
There are many commercially available cleaning products that not only clean the glass, including these imperfections, but also fill in those grooves and valleys with a protective polymer. This helps repel dirt and other contaminants to keep your apparatus glass cleaner longer. Some examples include Duragloss Rain Repel, Meguiars Perfect Clarity, Pinnacle Crystal Clear Glass Cleaner, Rain-X 2-in-1 Glass Cleaner and Stoner Invisible Glass Cleaner.
About the author
Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an active instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state, and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Since his retirement in 2007, he has continued to be a life-long learner working in both the private and public sectors to further develop his "management sciences mechanic" credentials. He makes his home near Charleston, W.Va. Contact Robert at Robert.Avsec@FireRescue1.com
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