Reducing Overhaul Risks for Firefighters


Exposure risk for firefighters can be reduced with simple tools without compromising a fire mission

In the past few years, there has been considerable research to characterize the risks that fire overhaul poses to firefighters.  The Montgomery County Fire/Rescue Service (MCFRS) in Montgomery County, Maryland, addressed this issue.  They used a methodology that was a comprehensive risk-reduction approach that used simple metering technologies along with common-sense tools.

The toxic gases, vapors, and particulates that are present at all structure fire scenes have a strong connection to increased cancer risks.  With current technology, it is not possible to determine what is present in fire smoke for two main reasons:  what is burning and how it is burning.

Some sensor readings that are metered in the overhaul environment are affected by high humidity.  To complicate the matter even further, dangerous concentrations of hazardous substances may linger even with the absence of smoke.

Significant physiological impacts are felt by many firefighters.  Some of these impacts include:

  • Increased core temperatures
  • Changes in blood chemistry
  • Increased cardiac stress

The turnout gear also exacerbates these dangers.  However, firefighters still complete their missions, regardless of the risks.  The good news is that a striking balance can be found between physiological and chemical hazards.

Striking a Balance

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) notes that, “high ambient heat and humidity are conditions that present a heat stress hazard to the entire body,” when firefighters operate in turnout gear or chemical protective clothing.  In order to calculate the apparent temperature, the IAFF suggests increasing the environmental temperature 10 degrees Fahrenheit to determine the temperature felt by firefighters inside their turnout gear.

The only reasonable protection from the hazardous substances found in fire smoke is the use of SCBA gear.  The MCFRS used this information provided by the IAFF to allow firefighters to downgrade their personal protective equipment when the relative humidity and air temperature, known as the heat index, is higher than 80 degrees along with other risk reduction methods.

Under these conditions, firefighters are allowed to replace their SCBA gear and turnout coat for a long-sleeved shirt and particulate mask.

However, when SCBA gear is required, ensuring that the air filters in the SCBA gear is in superior shape is necessary to keep out the hazardous particulates.  Discount Lawrence Factor carries a full line of air filters for numerous types of air filters to keep all SCBA gear it top working condition.