Protection from Chemical, Thermal, and Cardiovascular Risks: Impact of PPE Laundering and Hood Design
January 1, 2017
Research project led by the Illinois Fire Service Institute in partnership with UL FSRI and NIOSH to research ppe laundering.

Live-fire exposures place firefighters at risk for cardiovascular events and cancer. Largely as a result of our previous projects, the US fire service has become acutely aware of the limitations of some components of their PPE and the need to clean PPE after fires. However, there exist no guidance on how often PPE should be laundered vs deconned and how effective PPE cleaning remains after multiple washes. Damage from laundering may also impact safety features that provide critical protection from fireground risks (heat, contaminants). Finally, we have identified the hood as a vulnerable location where contaminants may penetrate PPE. Industry has introduced new technology to address this issue with little scientific study of effectiveness or durability to exposure/laundering. In a single study, we will advance our understanding of PPE protection and the effects of cleaning measures after realistic fire scenarios, then broadly disseminate this critical information to the fire service.

Project Resources

Goals and Objectives

The goals and objectives of this project are to collect new data on the impact of both repeated washing and gross on-scene decontamination on removing fireground contaminants and impacting critical protective properties of the PPE. Additionally, new information will be produced on the impact of hood design on exposures to heat and chemicals. This information will be collected using the same integrated manner our team used in seminal studies to characterize the fireground and training ground risks in the most complete manner to date. Most importantly, this information will be made available to all aspects of the fire service and affiliated industries, with translation of scientific findings into easily understood conclusions using widely accessible multimedia tools. As a result of this project, fire and public officials will have access to information that will allow them to implement effective policies for minimizing exposure risks and balancing cardiovascular/thermal strain.

Exposure and Cleaning Test Protocols

Standardized fire conditions & PPE dressed over manikins:

  • Area air sampling

Assess the potential exposure burden to the gear:

  • Wipe sampling
  • Exterior and interior surfaces of PPE
  • Assess deposition/condensation of contaminants onto gear

Skin surrogates on mannequin:

  • PPE interfaces
  • Barrier degradation may lead to increased penetration/permeation

Interior PPE temperatures:

  • Changes in thermal protection

Hood design:

  • Specific sampling will be focused on the neck area

Gear will be subjected to varying types of cleaning after each exposure:

  • Industrial laundering following NFPA 1851 compliant practices
  • Gross on-scene decon using water, detergent, and brushing
  • No cleaning other than light brushing to remove bulk deposition

An additional series of samples will only be laundered (no exposure) to isolate the impact of regular cleaning.
After cleaning:

  • Residual contamination on the exterior and interior surfaces

Destructive and nondestructive testing:

  • New PPE
  • “Post-10, 20, 40 exposure/cleaning cycles”

NFPA standard tests:

  • THL
  • TPP
  • Seam strength
  • Tear strength
  • Liquid penetration
  • Viral penetration
UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute is dedicated to increasing firefighter knowledge to reduce injuries and deaths in the fire service and in the communities they serve.