Contamination of UK firefighters personal protective equipment and workplaces

Wolffe, Taylor, Clinton, Anna Elizabeth pauline, Robinson, Andrew, Turrell, Louis and Stec, Anna A orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-6861-0468 (2023) Contamination of UK firefighters personal protective equipment and workplaces. Scientific Reports, 13 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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Firefighters’ personal protective equipment (PPE) is a potential source of chronic exposure to toxic contaminants commonly released from fires. These contaminants have also been found in fire stations. However, little research characterises the routes via which fire contaminants travel back to fire stations. The UK Firefighter Contamination Survey provides information on firefighters’ PPE provision, decontamination, and storage practices. All serving UK firefighters were eligible to take part in the survey, which comprised 64 questions. A total of 10,649 responses were included for analysis, accounting for roughly 24% of the UK’s firefighting workforce. Results revealed that most firefighters (84%) de-robe contaminated PPE/workwear after re-entering the appliance cab. There was a significant decreasing tendency to send PPE for cleaning after every incident with increasing seniority of role, length of service, and fire attendance frequency. Around one third of firefighters cleaned PPE after every incident. A number of issues were linked to external professional cleaning services, e.g. shrinkage, fit, turn-around time, and stock of reserve/pooled PPE. PPE storage was found to be a potential source of cross contamination, with almost half of firefighters (45%) indicating clean and dirty PPE is not stored separately. More than half of firefighters (57%) stored fire gloves (an item sent for professional decontamination by only 19% of firefighters, and never cleaned by 20%) within other items of PPE such as helmets, boots and tunic/trouser pockets. The survey’s results can be used to target gaps in decontamination measures within UK Fire and Rescue Services.

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