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‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign launched in response to health concerns

01 September 2020

MEDICAL AND safety technology specialist Dräger is launching its ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign to support Fire and Rescue Services in driving the cultural changes that are required to protect firefighters’ health going forward.

The launch follows a survey* of UK firefighters that found considerable concern over the impact of exposure to contaminants on long-term health. Some 84% of those firefighters questioned admitted they were concerned about the risk of cancer – a disease highlighted in some scientific reports to be the leading cause of death within the Fire and Rescue Service.

The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) reports that nearly two out of every three (61%) firefighter line-of-duty deaths between 2002 and 2017 were caused by cancer. Embedded carcinogens in any equipment can easily be absorbed by the men and women using it.

The survey by Dräger also found that more than two-thirds (68%) of firefighters fear the impact of COVID-19 on their long-term health, a point picked up by Brian Hesler (consultant and specialist advisor at Draeger Safety UK and former Chief Fire Officer for the Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.

Hesler observed: “The COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing fears over cancer, have highlighted the critical importance of hygiene. A significant cultural change is required. We need to move away from firefighters wearing dirty kit like a badge of honour that proves their hard work and value towards understanding that clean and well-maintained kit supported by detailed and robust hygiene processes that mitigate every contact with contaminants is essential.”

He continued: “One firefighter surveyed said ‘they had always been a bit blasé about invisible contaminants’. This situation simply has to change.”

Communication and training

The ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign will support the Fire and Rescue Services in helping to communicate (and provide training on) the importance of detailed hygiene processes, from the handling and storage of masks and breathing apparatus through to the subsequent cleaning of  kit after an incident has occurred.

It will also offer bespoke workshop solutions that allow firefighters to ‘guide’ the potentially contaminated kit from entering the station through to washing and drying processes and on again towards leaving the Fire Station to be used again.

In addition to providing detailed advice for manual washing processes including on detergent use and drying techniques, Dräger is the first company in the Emergency Services space to launch specialist breathing apparatus and mask cleaning equipment and dedicated solutions, including mechanical washing systems that provide complete consistency in washing temperatures, the amount of detergent used, speed and temperature of drying, all of which can work together to disinfect contaminants and protect the longevity of the kit. Support also encompasses logistical support for installation, the ongoing maintenance of equipment and the quantity of stock required.

Most important factors 

The survey revealed the most important factor in combating firefighter concerns over contaminants to be the cleaning of masks, with 97% of respondents rating this as very or extremely important, closely followed by the cleaning of breathing apparatus (95%) and the cleaning of PPE (94%).

While manual cleaning of equipment is still generally the norm within UK Fire and Rescue Services, the survey revealed three-quarters of respondents believe that mechanical equipment washing would improve their health. 80% agreed that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more emphasis should be placed on cleaning equipment and hygiene control. However, only 23% said that the pandemic had significantly changed their approach towards the cleaning of equipment.

Brian Hesler added: “There’s obvious concern over the cleaning of equipment due to the pandemic. One surveyed firefighter said ‘they clean to the best of their ability’. The point is that a person’s ability should not be a factor in the cleaning process. Consistency has to be key. The manufacturers of medical and safety technology products have a responsibility to innovate solutions that support change. We’re not here to tell Fire Brigades how to operate. Rather, we provide a range of solutions that support them and their firefighters’ health.”

*Survey conducted in July 2020, including 122 responses from people working in the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services