The recent headlines about the wildfires in California are frightening. The men and women fighting these fires and protecting their communities are true heroes—putting themselves at risk in order to perform their jobs and save lives.
Unfortunately, the dangers of firefighting doesn't end simply when the fire is out. Determining and implementing the appropriate protocol and workflow standards for personal protective equipment (PPE) during the clean-up and recovery process is just as essential in order to protect anyone who may be affected or involved by a structural fire or wildfire—including volunteers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, police officers, and even home owners who must return to their residences and begin the challenging process of recovery and rebuilding.
The Risks of Fire/Wildfire Clean Up
Debris and waste kicked up during wildfires can pose a serious threat to the health and safety of people coming in contact with it, especially if they are unprotected. When cleaning up after a fire damage to a house (which is currently happening by the hundreds in California), elements of the building itself must be considered, including age of the home, the materials with which the building was made, as well as whether there were any chemicals present in the house which may have been damaged or affected by the fire.
A few of the most common hazardous materials that may be present, especially in buildings and homes built prior to the 1980's include:
- Asbestos (in insulation)
- Lead (in paint)
- Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) (in caulk)
- Household chemicals, including cleaners, pesticides, paints, and fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, or propane
- Mold and mold spores (common on certain types of carpets, vinyl wall coverings, and wood and drywall)
Without adequate PPE, a person involved in the clean-up of a structure ravaged by a fire is at risk for inhalation, ingestion, or physical contact of any of these harmful substances. Burns, accidental poisoning, other adverse reactions, and even long-term health consequences can occur with enough exposure.
Additional risks during the clean-up process after fires include:
- Inhalation/ingestion of or physical contact with vapors, ash, demolition dust, soot, disinfectants, cleaners, etc.
- Exposure to carbon monoxide while using equipment such as pressure washers and generators in poorly ventilated areas
- Exposure to electrical hazards (e.g., damaged electrical systems, water damage, downed power lines)
- Heat stress and cold stress
- Slips, trips, and falls due to unstable and slippery surfaces, high surfaces, or uneven terrain (often exacerbated by poor visibility)
- The risk of engulfment, structural collapse, and other accidents
- Ergonomic and body mechanic stresses due to frequent lifting, bending, twisting, or awkward postures
This list is not all-inclusive, and of course even the best PPE protocol cannot necessarily offer 100% prevention of these hazardous situations. But there are several things quality PPE can do that can maximize the ability of first responders and other workers to remain safe while performing their important duties.
Things to Consider for Protective Apparel for Fire Damage Clean Up
Appropriate PPE for fired damage clean-up must include several protective aspects. First, gear should be available that protects the head, face, and eyes. This may include hard hats, face shields, and goggles.
Hearing protection is indicated in the event that employees are working in loud environments and/or utilizing loud equipment.
Respiratory protection for both the professional and layman is often required. For the professionals, respirator programs must be in place from the employer to ensure proper training, selection, fit testing, maintenance, and inspection.
Additional "head to toe" protection is necessary in order to minimize skin contact, improve worker visibility, maintain worker comfort and mobility, and decrease the risk of electrical/chemical burns. To this end, gowns, gloves, and shoe or boot covers are essential.
Any and all PPE must also be conducive to worker comfort and safety, especially in the setting of fall prevention. Firefighters and other members of a wildfire clean-up crew are often working on unstable surfaces at a great height, and may require the use of harnesses, lanyards, and other safety measures. PPE must accommodate these extra preventive elements while at the same time affording adequate movement and comfort for the worker.
Using disposable protective clothing is beneficial in this case for several reasons: it's cost-effective, easy to transport and disperse, saves time, protects under-garments, adds an extra layer of protection in addition to primary PPE, and lastly can reduce the risk of further community exposure through take-home hazards, since people wearing PPE can simply discard the apparel after use, rather than having to launder it.
MicroGuard MP® from International Enviroguard is a leading choice for wildfire clean up and fire damage recovery. Our garments (which include coveralls, coats, and boot and shoe covers) feature a high MVTR rating and excellent liquid/spray/particulate barrier capability.
Protect Your Employees, Your Community, and Your Financial Bottom Line with Disposable PPE and Protective Apparel
Is your company involved in fire recovery and clean up? Have you been affected by the recent California wildfires? Contact International Enviroguard now. Our knowledgeable and passionate team of PPE experts are standing by and ready to help you find the perfect protective apparel solutions for your employees and loved ones.