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How to launder firefighting hoods

Are you taking the necessary steps when laundering your protective hoods to help prevent the spread of particulates?


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By Robert Avsec for FireRescue1 BrandFocus

The body of knowledge regarding firefighters and the increased risk of developing a range of health issues that may be connected to their exposure to chemicals, chemical compounds and toxic substances continues to grow. Researchers are working diligently to identify to what degree these exposures, primarily present in the smoke produced by today’s generation of structure fires, have in the development of health issues in firefighters.

Firefighters need to have a clean particulate-blocking hood available at all times. Take steps to be sure you and your department are laundering these garments to help prevent cross-contamination.
Firefighters need to have a clean particulate-blocking hood available at all times. Take steps to be sure you and your department are laundering these garments to help prevent cross-contamination. (Globe)

Much of that research is focusing on the risk posed by dermal absorption – contaminants entering the body through the skin. Specifically, that research has become more focused on the dermal absorption that occurs through the skin of the head and neck area. Gavin Horn and his teammates at the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) have conducted several studies examining particulate exposure and the impact of laundering on PPE effectiveness.

“In a few of the early studies, the neck area was found to have relatively high levels of contamination,” he said. “So there’s been a significant push in the fire service to develop new PPE – particularly hoods – that can help address that concern.”

MEETING THE NEED FOR ADDED PROTECTION 

The inclusion of the protective hood as a required element for the structural firefighting protective ensemble in NFPA 1971: Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting was a huge step in providing a higher level of thermal protection for this area of the body.

In recent years, the manufacturers of firefighting protective hoods have taken the next step by creating particulate-blocking hoods that help to prevent the infiltration of particulates. The new Globe Guard Hood from MSA, for example, provides particulate barrier coverage throughout the entire garment.

Along with these developments has come the increased awareness for firefighters to not only have a particulate-blocking hood but that they always have a clean hood available.

In this article we will explore lessons learned and give some best practices for laundering hoods, particularly to help reduce cross contamination and prevent damage.

BASIC LAUNDERING FOR YOUR HOOD

Laundering your hood after every exposure to products of combustion is important – but so is doing it in accordance with the NFPA 1851 standard and the manufacturer’s instructions, as the particulate-blocking hood is the most delicate element of your protective ensemble and should only be laundered with other hoods (and possibly the detached liners from your PPE coat and pants). Laundering your hood together with the outer shell of coats or pants outfitted with hook-and-loop fasteners, hook snaps and zippers can cause damage to the hood’s outer layer and particulate-blocking layer.

When possible, wash heavily contaminated hoods separately from those that may be less soiled to help reduce the risk for cross-contamination.

“Laundering appears to do a good job removing many of the contaminants from the hood, particularly PAHs,” said Horn. “But there are some other compounds, flame retardants, for instance, that we’ve seen are a little bit more tricky and actually might cross-contaminate from a heavily contaminated material to others that might not originally be as contaminated.”

Hoods should only be laundered using mild detergent with a pH between 6.0 and 10.5, in the amount specified in the manufacturer’s recommendations, using water that’s not hotter than 105 degrees F. Never use bleach or fabric softeners when laundering particulate-blocking hoods.

CLEANING YOUR HOOD INDIVIDUALLY

When laundering your hood, protect yourself first. Wear protective gloves and eye/face splash protection whenever you’re handling a contaminated protective hood that needs cleaning.

Use the following steps for cleaning your protective hood by hand using a utility sink:

  1. Choose a utility sink that is specifically used for cleaning of protective clothing. Do not use a kitchen sink or other sink that is employed for personal hygiene.
  2. Brush off any loose debris.
  3. Pretreat heavily soiled or spotted areas using a consumer laundry product designed for spot removal.
  4. Fill the utility sink with warm water, not more than 105 degrees F.
  5. Use a mild detergent. (Remember to look at the pH of the detergent first.)
  6. Allow the hood to presoak for 10 minutes.
  7. Gently rub the hood material together, starting with the exterior. If needed, a soft washcloth can be used.
  8. Drain the sink and thoroughly rinse the hood. Conduct a second rinse if necessary.
  9. Inspect the hood and, where necessary, rewash the protective hood, or submit it for further advanced cleaning procedures.
  10. Air-dry the hood by hanging it in a well-ventilated area, but not in direct sunlight.
  11. Rinse the utility sink.

MACHINE WASHING YOUR HOOD

Never wash your hoods with personal items, in home laundry or at a laundromat. Likewise, don’t wash hoods with station uniforms to help prevent the possibility of cross-contamination from the hoods to the station wear.

Also, never wash your hood with other items made of natural fibers, like cotton, as this can cause fibers to become enmeshed in the hood’s fabric, increasing the potential for flaming over the hood’s surface.

When using a washing machine, ensure that the gravitational forces from the washer’s extractor do not exceed 100 Gs. Unless otherwise instructed, keep the load to no more than 80% of the washer’s rated capacity. Overloading will result in inefficient cleaning. Use the washer’s warm water setting (not to exceed 105 degrees F) on a gentle cycle. When finished, run an empty cycle to clean the washer.

Refer to NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (2020) for additional information on recommended detergents and cleaning procedures.

KEY POINT: The manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific hood supersede the basic requirements of NFPA 1851.

DRYING YOUR HOOD

You can line dry your hood in a well-ventilated and shaded area. Most manufacturers caution against drying protective hoods in sunlight because some materials are susceptible to degradation from UV rays.

When using a mechanical dryer, tumble dry on a “no heat” or “air dry” setting. If the dryer does not have this setting, use a low setting that doesn’t exceed 105 degrees F. Some manufacturers also recommend avoiding dry cleaning, due to chemicals used in the process and their purity.

Finally, store your hood only when it is clean, dry and free of contamination.

INSPECT YOUR HOOD AFTER DRYING

One important practice that cannot be underestimated is the visual inspection. Checking the hood for cuts, holes and tears is essential. Some manufacturers have included an inspection opening in the hood that enables you to turn the hood inside out so you can easily inspect the particulate-blocking layer.

Studies have been performed to analyze the impact that breaches of various sizes have on particulate filtration efficiency. These studies have shown that small breaches (the size of a dime or smaller) have little impact on a hood’s PFE.

NFPA 1971 (2018) requires that particulate-blocking hoods must have a PFE of 90% or greater. The hood can have up to two breaches the size of a dime in any given panel and still maintain the 90% PFE requirement. A particulate-blocking hood must be removed from service if any of the following are found during the inspection of the hood (numbers correspond to Figure 1):

FIGURE 1: Original graphic by Robert Avsec & Lexipol
FIGURE 1: Original graphic by Robert Avsec & Lexipol (Lexipol/Robert Avsec)
  • Three or more dime-sized breaches are found in a single panel in 2, 3, 5, 7 or 8.
  • Any breach larger than a dime is found in panels 2, 3, 5, 7 or 8.
  • If six or more total breaches (of any size) are found in panels 2, 3, 5, 7 or 8.

Your particulate-blocking hood is the key element of your PPE in helping to protect you from dermal absorption of toxic byproducts of combustion. And it can only do that if you keep it clean and in good repair. Take the necessary steps to clean contaminated hoods and prevent cross-contamination during laundering.

For more information on protective hoods, visit Globe.

Read Next: This new particulate-protective hood protects your neck from toxic substances and heat buildup

References

Avsec, R. 3 things you should do to keep your protective hood healthy, https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/hoods/articles/3-things-you-should-do-to-keep-your-protective-hood-healthy-AtwKDcmAJV4ijDJg/.

National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (2020), https://nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=1851.

National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 1971: Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (2018), https://nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=1971.

MSA-Globe. Turnout Gear Care & Cleaning, https://globe.msasafety.com/care-cleaning

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