Planning, preparation and communication are key elements in the process to purchase the right personal protective equipment (PPE) and equipment storage for your department. In this article, we’ll tell you what you need to know to make a good buying decision.
Research, testing and evaluation of the structural firefighting protective ensemble indicate that these five situations are the leading causes of decreased life-cycle for PPE, particularly the integrity of the PPE fabric:
- Exposure to sunlight and other sources of UV rays, like fluorescent lighting.
- Moisture damage, mildew from gear not being properly dried.
- Retention of fire gases and toxic substances from soiled PPE that’s not been cleaned and dried.
- Surface contamination, especially soot, and other debris from firefighting operations.
- Surface contamination from diesel exhaust particulates from fire apparatus.
From the list, it’s clear that the proper storage of your department’s PPE can have a direct effect on the longevity of the equipment.
When evaluating gear storage systems to find the product that’s right for your station, begin by considering the following questions.
1. How much space is available for gear storage, and where is that space located?
One of the key pieces of information that you should have before contacting any vendor or manufacturer is how much available floor space you have in the fire station. This is important because many of the PPE storage system manufacturers calculate how many individual lockers will fit into your available space.
Manufacturers who offer lockers in different widths can crunch your numbers and offer you different options.
2. How will the PPE gear storage system be used?
Knowing the answers to the following use questions can greatly aid the vendor you’re working with in understanding what you currently have, what’s not working and what you’re looking for in a new gear storage system:
- Will the gear storage house PPE that’s already been cleaned and dried?
- Will each locker need to have the space and capability to allow wet PPE to be hung in the locker for drying and storage, such as heavy-duty hangers that promote good airflow?
- How much gear and equipment needs to be stored?
- Will the lockers be wall-mounted or freestanding units that can be placed between fire apparatus? Or are mobile lockers on wheels required that can be moved around the station as needed (e.g., to open up the apparatus bay for a fund-raising supper or event)?
- Will the individual lockers serve as more than just a locker for PPE storage? Storage system manufacturers can provide accessories to create secure personal storage space for each member. Examples include lockable storage boxes to hold personal items securely while on duty or locker doors.
3. How might PPE storage space configurations change over time?
It’s important to anticipate future needs. Will you be adding personnel? How will changing recommendations impact future storage? Will you have room to store multiple sets of gear for each firefighter if needed? Can internal locker configurations for individual lockers be changed over time? Think ahead to find the perfect fit for gear storage.
Provide visual documentation for a customized fit
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video file or a live video stream worth? Your communication with manufacturers and vendors doesn’t have to be limited to verbal or written instructions, or even still photographs. Check with prospective manufacturers and vendors to see if you can connect via a live feed using Facetime or Skype or send them a video file.
That two-way virtual communication allows manufacturers to clearly see what the environment looks like on your end, such as light switches, piping or other minor obstructions on the wall that would require any adaptations during installation of a wall-mounted system.
It also gives the manufacturer or vendor rep an opportunity to ask questions, ask for different views and answer your questions in real time in the case of live video.
By providing upfront planning, preparation and communication you will ensure you purchase the right PPE and equipment storage for your department. In the famous words of New York Yankees baseball player, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” This is true, even when planning for PPE equipment storage.