While washing the HM Mobile this morning (which recently crested the 100,000 mile mark TYVM!) I was amazed at how dirty it had gotten over the holiday season. All the trash from the kids’ snack wrappers, pretzel crumbs, paperwork from work, scattered uniform bits and other such regalia were taken out so I could vacuum and clean.
At one point I told myself, jokingly, “You wash your gear more often than this car.”
And it’s true. I wash my turnouts once a month and after every fire. I clean out and wash my car far less frequently. But then again, there are few chances my dirty car will lead to my premature death.
The reason we wear our SCBAs into fires is because of the smoke, right? What is smoke if not particles of non-complete combustion? Where does that smoke land while our lungs are protected by fresh air? On our gear. We get back from a worker and clean our hose, hooks, axes and engine so that they are ready for the next alarm. We shower and change into a fresh uniform, or at least a new pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
But how often are you cleaning your turnouts?
They likely sit neglected on the floor of the bay, covered in soot, drywall, insulation and whatever else was in that fire, signaling to the next crew that you are the man. You caught a fire and you are one bad ass. Your jacket is just as filthy, as is your helmet, but I bring up the boots for a special reason. Would you sleep in that fire building that night after the fire is out?
Then why do you but your dirty, dangerous boots RIGHT NEXT to your bed later that night up in the dorm?
Fires are still killing us and that is disturbing all on it’s own, but what is more disturbing is the growing list of firefighters contracting rare, and not so rare, forms of cancer. Bladder, kidney, lung… all cancers we open ourselves to when we fail to clean our protective gear after a fire.
The glory days of the Fire Service of Old are long gone fellas. Smoke Eaters did this job when houses were made of wood and cloth. Now there are metals, chemical carpet stain blockers, plastics and a host of other things that we recognize as dangerous and mask up.
But remember that along for the ride was your coat. And your helmet. And your boots.
Don’t have time to clean them? Find another excuse.
It’s not that bad? Find another excuse.
Or keep doing what you’re doing but don’t be surprised when the doctor tells you you won’t be able to enjoy that retirement you earned.