Sponsored by GearGrid
By Robert Avsec for FireRescue1 BrandFocus
One of the hottest topics in the fire service today is that of properly cleaning firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE) after every exposure to debris and toxic materials during structural firefighting. That discussion is being spurred on by the growing body of knowledge connecting those exposures to an increased risk for cancer in firefighters when compared to the general population.
There’s also a financial angle to this discussion. With a full protective ensemble, including helmet, hood, suspenders, coat, pants, boots and gloves – altogether costing about $2,000 – proper storage, along with proper cleaning and drying, can greatly extend the life of the structural firefighting ensemble.
Research, testing and evaluation of PPE indicates that the following five situations are the leading causes of decreased life-cycle for firefighting PPE, especially the integrity of the PPE fabric:
- Exposure to sunlight and other sources of UV rays, like fluorescent lighting.
- Moisture damage (mildew) from gear not being properly dried.
- Retention of fire gases and toxic substances from soiled PPE that’s not been cleaned and dried.
- Surface contamination, especially soot, and other debris from firefighting operations.
- Surface contamination from diesel exhaust particulates from fire apparatus.
Proper storage of your department’s PPE has a direct positive influence on items 1, 2, and 5 and a secondary role for items 3 and 4.
Getting started on your gear storage system
When evaluating gear storage systems to find the product that’s right for your station, begin by considering the following questions:
- How much space is available, and where in the station is that space located?
- How much gear and equipment needs to be stored?
- How will the storage system be used?
- How might storage space configurations change over time?
- How are you going to clean and maintain the storage system?
“When we first connect with a fire department that’s contacted us, we use a series of questions to have a guided discussion with them,” said Tara Jereczek, a storage space estimator with GearGrid. “We want to learn what they currently have, what’s not working with their current PPE storage and what are they looking to get with a new system.”
Don’t forget to anticipate future needs. Will you be adding personnel? How will changing recommendations impact future storage (i.e., will you have the room to store multiple sets of gear for each firefighter if needed?).
Determining your available storage space
One of the key pieces of information you should have before contacting any vendor or manufacturer is how much available floor space (in feet) you have in the fire station (or each fire station individually if you’re looking to equip more than one station). Many of the manufacturers of PPE storage systems can calculate for you how many individual lockers can fit into your available space.
“This is really important, especially with our wall-mounted lockers, because each locker system is manufactured to fit your fire station,” said Emily Krych, marketing and inside sales specialist with GearGrid. “We don’t make [production] runs of, say, 10 lockers. If you’ve got space for five lockers over here and five lockers over there in your station, we make two runs of five lockers.”
And those manufacturers who offer lockers in different widths can crunch your numbers and offer you different options.
“A fire department may want 20 of our 24-inch lockers but they don’t have the space,” said Jereczek, “but because I know how much space they have available, I can tell them that they can get 20 of our 20-inch lockers with the space they have.”
Use technology to share information with storage suppliers
Communication with manufacturers and vendors doesn’t have to be just verbal.
“When we talk over the phone, I’ll ask the department to send me photographs so I can see what they see,” said Jereczek. “That way I can see if there are light switches or piping or some other obstruction on the wall that would require us to offset the lockers from the wall with our furring system.”
But why not take visual to the next level? Check with prospective manufacturers and vendors to see if you can connect via a live feed using FaceTime or Skype. That two-way virtual communication can let them clearly see what the environment looks like on your end. It also gives the manufacturer or vendor rep an opportunity to ask questions, ask for different views, and answer your questions.
“We’ve started using FaceTime with a couple of departments to get a better idea of what the installation site looks like, and it’s really enhanced the process,” said Jereczek.
Determining your particular storage needs
Another key piece of information to have ready is how your personnel will be using their PPE lockers. Will it be just for storage of PPE that’s already been cleaned and dried (because you have a PPE washer/extractor and dryer combination at the station)? Or will each locker need to have space and the capability (e.g., heavy-duty hangers that promote good airflow) to allow wet PPE to be hung in the locker for drying?
Secondly, are you looking for wall-mounted lockers, free-standing lockers or mobile lockers on wheels that can be moved around the station as needed?
Lastly, for many fire departments, regardless of size or staffing, the storage system must serve as more than just a locker for PPE storage. With the wide variety of accessories GearGrid offers for its basic locker, a fire department can provide secure personal storage space for each member:
- Lockable storage boxes to hold personal items securely while on duty.
- Holders for box of patient care gloves.
- Stow-away seat.
- Retro-fit locker door.
- 120-volt A/C outlet power bar to easily keep pagers, phones, flashlights and small tools charged and ready for use.
- Heavy-duty hangers for drying coats, pants and gloves.
- Binder holder for storing training manuals, training logs and larger mail items.
Krych says the ability to add features to their GearGrid lockers after the sale is an attractive option, especially for fire departments on a tight budget.
“We can help them get their basic locker system in place, say this year, and then next year perhaps add a couple of accessories to everyone’s space,” said Krych. “Or maybe everyone doesn’t need the same accessories for their locker. We give them the options to customize one locker or all of them, or any number in between.”
Example: Ordering storage from GearGrid
So, you decide you need a customized storage system, and you choose GearGrid. Because GearGrid does not have local distributors, your phone call to the GearGrid headquarters and manufacturing facility begins the purchasing process. From that point on, your GearGrid estimator works one-on-one with your fire department’s representative to get the best fit for your facility.
Knowing the answers to these questions will help them make the best use of your time:
- For each station, how much floor space (in feet) is available for PPE storage lockers?
- How many lockers will you need?
- Are lockers for storage only or drying and storage of PPE?
- Will lockers be wall-mounted, free-standing, mobile or a combination of these?
- What accessories are needed for each locker?
“Because our success relies so much on verbal communication, we’re really good listeners,” said Jereczek. “That’s how we’re able to get our customers the GearGrid system that best meets their needs.”
About the Author
Batt. Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's EFO Program. Contact Robert at Robert.Avsec@FireRescue1.com.