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Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

by IvyFPS
Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

London Biggin Hill Airport is a Fire Category 6 Regional Airport situated in Southeast London, catering for private and business aviation for the London sector

Where do we begin…. Like most fire services the contaminants issue affects the airports just as much as our local authority counterparts. We were very fortunate in 2021 to meet and start working with John Lord from SimTrainer UK, who put us on the right path with this difficult issue. Since then, we have worked closely with John and our long-term friend and associate Andy Slater (PGI). If you have any questions relating to this topic, I would suggest that these two are specialists in the field of firefighter contaminants and PPE, with years of experience and a positive attitude towards making a difference within our industry and beyond.

The FBUs findings on particulates and the research from Professor Anna Stec and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) helped us to start with the basics – so, we started with ‘shower within the hour’. We updated our shower facilities to remove any potential barriers to this practice and at the same time we installed post fire decontamination soaps into the facility.

Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

PPE – Our structural firefighting PPE was black so could hide contaminants from clear sight. This was a costly project, but we changed the station’s PPE to a gold-colored kit, clearly identifying any soiling or visible contaminants. Our PPE is laundered by the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning provider and all records are stored for everyone’s PPE. Whilst we were on this change, we decided to dedicate a set of ‘training PPE’ to each firefighter. This way we clearly know what PPE is expected to be the most contaminated and can monitor its use. The airport fire service thankfully sees low numbers of incidents, so, to keep our staff attuned to the risks and competent in role, we train regularly in a carbonaceous atmosphere.

Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

Post Fire Decontamination – A tricky one for any fire service to accomplish. This entailed a complete review of our procedures and the purchase of dedicated decontamination bags for each appliance in the fleet and for our training ground. The decon bags include:

  • Soluble bags for the storage and transportation of contaminated PPE
  • Decontamination equipment wipes
  • Personal decontamination hygiene wipes
  • Disposable gloves
  • Heavy duty large waste bags for the transportation of contaminated BA sets
Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

Our post fire decontamination procedure allows the firefighter to disrobe from their PPE as safely as possible, avoiding cross contamination. This includes respiratory protection, provided in the first stage by SCBA, followed by using individually issued respirators.

As part of our maintenance of competence assessment process we have also included: contaminants, a safe disrobe process and shower within the hour into the firefighters BA assessments; Why?

  • To ensure our firefighters are adhering to their training and our processes
  • To focus our teams on contaminants
  • To enforce that the Station Management Team are taking this topic seriously.

Clean Cab Concept – We were lucky that at the time of implementing our contaminants procedures, we took delivery of two new appliances. This meant that by the time the appliances were ready for operational use, our clean cab procedures had to be in place. The stumbling block was the SCBA sets, which, although cleaned after use to the best of our abilities, still posed a risk of contaminating the appliance cabs. This is when we introduced (via our good friend Andy Slater PGI) the Sentinel 300 Ioniser into the appliances. These small devicses emit tens of thousands of ions into the appliance cab, effectively neutralising and agglomerating any harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or particulates which may have been left over from the cleaning process, an incident or training. This was monitored via an air quality monitor which provided positive results in the reduction of VOCs and particulates.

Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

Clean BA Room – Another area we concentrated on was our BA room. After years of general use and standard cleaning the BA Room was an obvious area that needed special consideration. After a quick refurbishment and a good clean out, we introduced another ioniser into this room. This is installed into the false ceiling and looks like an air conditioning unit. This ceiling tile ioniser does the same as the in-cab ioniser, pumping tens of thousands of ions into the room continuously, neuralising and agglomerating VOCs and particulates. Since this has been installed, we no longer have any of the post fire odors or smells which are typically associated with BA Rooms.

Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

Station Routines – The installation of the air quality monitors (AQM) was a real eye opener as to how we could make a difference by simply changing the way we do things. For example: the AQM installed into the appliance bays showed that overnight, when the station was quiet and the doors closed, there was a steady buildup of VOCs. This was mainly through the lack of natural ventilation and the appliances being parked in there. A simple change where the appliance bay ventilation system is switched on before parade, saw a dramatic improvement in the air quality in the mornings, therefore the bay doors are now opened and the ventilation systems switched on, whenever there is activity in the bays that may cause an increase in harmful products Routine equipment inspections were also changed. Our teams now wear disposable gloves when handling any equipment from the appliance. Disposable glove dispensers have been installed at prominent points around the station to ensure that our teams can access these without depleting the operational stock, and to encourage their use during inspections. This is a quick and low-cost change which prevents cross contamination from equipment to the individual, but also prevents these contaminants spreading throughout the station.

Health Surveillance – The Station Management Team, with the support of the airport’s directors decided that monitoring our male staff for prostate cancer and our female staff for breast cancer, was the best way to screen for some of the more common cancers in firefighters. These were chosen due to the data provided by the FBU & UCLAN, and the advice given by John Lord at Sim Trainer UK, as these types of cancers generally go unnoticed until possibly too late, as the symptoms can be subtle.

All our male staff (no matter what age) are offered a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test as part of their bi-annual medical. This is funded by the airport and the results are interpreted by our occupational health service for the individual, in full confidence. It is then down to the individual to take this up with their GP if there is a concern. Our staff under the age of 40 are informed about the possibility of false positive tests due to their age, and we have had a very good response to the tests being undertaken.

For our female staff we are offering private mammogram and ultrasound tests, again, at their bi-annual medical or at the individual’s request and fully funded by the airport. This is conducted by a private hospital and the results are interpreted by them and confidentially given to the firefighter.

This surveillance goes hand in hand with our staff being notified (through station contaminants training) about the firefighter SNOMED CT code. For anyone reading that does not know what this is, it is a code issued by the NHS for certain professions and can fast track someone’s medical treatment, if their GP has their SNOMED CT codes on the NHS system. The firefighter SNOMED CT Code is 106382009 and more information can be found on this NHS link 106382009 – Fire fighter – SNOMED CT (findacode.com).

Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally

RPE protection zones – Another quick fix was to ensure that areas which are obvious contaminant hot spots were risk assessed and the appropriate mitigation adopted for the area. This led us to designating specific RPE protection zones. This includes our live fire training rigs & CFBT container. It is now mandatory for any activity in this area, that our personnel wear SCBA or face fitted respirators at all times. This includes, setting up training scenarios, cleaning and visitors, followed by a ‘shower within the hour’.

Seminars – In conjunction with Andy Slater (PGI) we have been proud to be able to host two seminars at London Biggin Hill Airport focused on contaminants, where invitations were sent to many local authority fire services and airport fire services, also including training providers, PPE suppliers and airport regulators (CAA) The seminars were a chance for us to learn from those who have been affected by this disease and to hear from professionals from across the industry, from a scientific perspective to a regulatory perspective. It also gave us the opportunity to form solid working groups and share ideas, to push the word, and focus of the fire services to act on this issue we are all facing.

During this process I have met and learnt from some fantastic people who I now consider friends, – you know who you are – , and I thank you for pushing us to achieve the best standards we can for our teams and ourselves. I understand that we at London Biggin Hill have implemented a lot in the fight against cancer in firefighters, but it doesn’t take a lot to make significant changes, it doesn’t cost the world and can be started with some basic education to our staff and collogues.

What’s next – Moving forward

I believe that this topic will be forever evolving and with the work of those mentioned in this article, this can only get better. My next goal at London Biggin Hill is to install a dedicated SCBA washing machine, which should further mitigate contaminants from the station and from the vehicles. SCBA washing machines will also enable us to decontaminate those tricky, awkward items of PPE, such as boots and helmets.

Where can YOU start!

Although this whole process can seem daunting and ‘never ending’, all we need to do is make a start, do something to better the futures of our firefighters. Provide them with the correct training in post fire decontamination. Install disposable gloves and dispensers. Explain why storing fire gloves in their helmets is wrong. Proceduralise ‘shower within the hour’. Force the change of attitudes and habits. All of these suggestions are low cost and easy fixes which will make a huge change for those in our industry and for those who are inspired to join it.

“Managing the Contaminants Issue Operationally” is written by Chris Thornton Station Manager at London Biggin Hill Airport.



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