When you are busy fighting fires and rescuing people, you might not have thought about how to maintain your firefighting kit.

Anyone involved in firefighting knows that their kit is their best friend. This safety barrier protects people working on the frontline from all manner of hazards, from freezing cold temperatures to the most extreme heat, from toxic chemicals to the invisible hazard of particulates.

But the kit can only do so much on its own. Making sure the kit is up to the task is, at least in part, down to the user.

So how can anyone involved in firefighting and associated activities preserve the life of their kit through regular maintenance?

New British Standard for maintaining your firefighting kit

BS8617 was published in 2019 with detailed guidance for the inspection, testing, cleaning, decontamination, drying, repairs, replacement, and retirement/disposal of firefighting personal protective equipment (PPE). While it recommends that each fire service should have a contract provider for cleaning and maintaining kit, there are also steps individuals can take to preserve their equipment. (We wrote a short blog about it here.)

Understanding your durable water repellent layer (DWR)

The DWR layer is the element of your structural suit that makes the biggest difference between it being professional safety equipment and normal clothes. As the name suggests, it keeps out water, but it also protects you from other liquids, including battery acid and other corrosive chemicals.

Crucially, though, by making the fabric non-porous, the DWR also keeps out particulates, which are now widely recognised as one of the biggest dangers to the health of a firefighter. Particulates in a firefighting scenario can penetrate the skin and get into the blood stream, where they can be carcinogenic. We have a whole blog post on particulates here.

Maintaining your DWR is a simple yet effective measure against these known poisons. To check whether your suit is still water (and particulate) tight, simply spray it with water from a spray bottle. If the water pools in droplets on the surface, the DWR is working effectively. If it soaks into the fabric, the DWR has failed and the garment needs to be re-treated.

When to repair and when to replace your firefighting suits

Within BS8617 is provision for keeping excellent records and traceability for all PPE items. This provides the opportunity to keep a close eye on maintenance spending, monitoring how much money is spent on each item. If a new jacket costs £200 for example, and you have already invested £150 in repairs, there’s a good chance it will be more cost effective to replace the jacket the next time it is damaged instead of paying for another repair.

Garments will also need to be retired if they are over 10 years old (or older than the lifespan determined by the manufacturer) or if they have been contaminated by chemical, biological, radioactive or nuclear agents.

Good maintenance protocols go hand in hand with constant kit inspections to flag issues as they arise. Read more about kit inspections here.

Now you have more information about how to maintain your firefighting kit, if you’ve identified that replacement is better than more repairs then take a look at our full range of structural, wildland fire, HVP and rescue kit here, or call one of our experts on +44 (0) 1332 341030.

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