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What a dirty doll teaches about rehab

Decontamination is an important component of rehab and this dirty-doll exercise will drive that point home

Decontamination is a topic normally discussed during hazmat training; however, we need to also consider decontamination as part of our rehab training.

The toxins on our protective gear are countless; they are the byproducts from incident scenes. Once we come to rehab, we try to reduce the possibility of contamination by holding protective gear in a contained area outside the rehab area. Any contact with soiled or contaminated gear has the potential to spread the contaminants to other objects or individuals.

So how does a dirty doll have anything to do with it?

One method to train personnel on the importance of contamination is to take a doll and cover it with glo-germ; many instructors like to use Barbie dolls simply because they are small. The glo-germ simulates the contaminants, yet it cannot be seen by the naked eye.

The students then perform a decon on the doll by scrubbing the glo-germ off the doll with water and a little soap. You can have them use a toothbrush as a means to clean the doll without them having to touch it. Some will use a small pan of water and put the doll in to simulate an area that also captures the water.

Is it safe?
Once the students believe the doll has been thoroughly decontaminated, scan the doll with a black light to see if there are any areas that have not come clean from the decontamination. In virtually every situation, dirty areas remain, especially the hard-to-reach areas, much like in real life.

You can also do the same exercise with the students by putting the glo-germ on their hands. Have them wash their hands. After, they believe their hands are completely clean, use the black light to identify any spots they may have missed.

In addition, use the black light around the wash area to demonstrate how the contaminants may have come clean from their hands, yet the wash area is full of splattered contaminants.

After the exercise is over, reconvene the students and get their feedback. Emphasize the importance of how many contaminants we face every day in our work environment.

The lives we touch
In many cases, these contaminants originate from our personal protective equipment. The contaminants are then spread to our clothes and other items we touch. Depending on our circumstances, these contaminants also spread to our family members — including our children.

Needless to say, all of this can potentially harm us, family members and others with whom we come in contact.

Decontaminating our gear is an area that is slowly gaining more attention due to the vast number of emergency service personnel becoming ridden with cancers and other diseases.

Think before you put your personal protective equipment in the back seat of your car, whether you are a career firefighter being transferred to another station or a volunteer firefighter using your personal vehicle as a means to get to and from the scene. By doing so, you are running the risk of contaminating your vehicle, you, and your family.

If you cannot take the proper means to decontaminate your gear, you need to at least take precautions to prevent contamination to other objects in your vehicle. Put your gear in a gear bag and place it in the trunk of your vehicle. At your soonest point be sure to decontaminate all potential areas.

This exercise would be a great one at your next training session. It may actually save you and your family’s life —all because you learned how to clean a dirty doll.

Dr. Lindsey is the coordinator/lecturer for the University of Florida Fire and Emergency Service degree program. He serves as the chief learning officer for Health Safety Institute. He retired from the fire service as chief of Estero (Fla.) Fire Rescue. Dr. Lindsey earned his doctorate and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from USF. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fire and safety engineering from the University of Cincinnati. He also has earned his chief fire officer designation and is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program. He was the 2011 recipient of the James O Page Leadership Award from IAFC. You can contact Jeffrey at