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Why Clean Gear is Safer Gear

By: Olivia Schwartz

Cancer is a life-threatening disease that affects millions of Americans each year. However, this disease affects the men and women who risk their lives for us every day at a higher risk level than the general U.S. population. Firefighters withstand higher chemical exposures on the job, causing them to be at a high risk of digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary system cancers1. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), about 60 percent of career firefighters will die of cancer2.

Dermal Absorption Rates

Dermal (skin) absorption may increase as skin temperature rises.3

BACK 12%

Yet, prevention is possible. NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, establishes requirements to reduce health and safety risks associated with improper gear maintenance, contamination or damage to PPE. The standard recommends gear be inspected after each use, and undergo an advanced cleaning and inspection at least once a year. Is this enough?

Garments that are not cleaned frequently may wear out sooner due to the chemicals, oils, gases, and solvents that can build up and weaken the materials. In fact, thread may become weaker, visibility of the trim may fade, and soiled gear is less protective as it reflects less radiant heat and is more likely to conduct electricity4.

Healthy In – Healthy Out, a best practices manual released by Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN), encourages firefighters to perform a gross decon before removing PPE worn in the hot zone to remove potentially harmful contaminates. Turnouts should then be cleaned after each exposure to toxic products of combustions. The manual also points out, “accumulation of soot and chemicals on turnouts can lead to persistent exposures of carcinogens to fire fighters5.”

Washing gear after every exposure does not mean gear should be washed at home or in a laundromat. This can expose loved ones, and the people in the community to hazardous toxins trapped in the fibers of the gear. Beyond secondary exposure, top load washers should not be used because they cause extra wear and tear on the gear due to their small sized tub and agitator, and grocery store laundry detergent used in the home are the wrong chemicals for turnout gear, lacking the necessary pH balance6. The best option for fire departments to clean their gear is to use a verified independent service provider (ISP) to maintain their turnout gear and other PPE to optimize their protective performance, improve the firefighter safety, and provide cost-savings to the fire department.

To learn about LION TotalCare® customized turnout gear cleaning, repair and maintenance solutions, click here.


  1. Mortality & Cancer Incidence in Pooled Cohort, Daniles et al, 2013
  2. How Modern Furniture Endangers Firefighters, Olga Khazan, 2015
  3. Franz, 1984 & Jones et al., 2003
  4. Keeping You Safer Longer, LION, 2017
  5. Healthy In-Healthy Out, 2016
  6. A Case for Clean Turnout Gear, John Gary, 2013




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