NFPA 1851 – Fire Gear Cleaning and Maintenance

Firefighters are bound to tradition, and often their displays of courage have been centered around the state of their turnout gear. While soot-covered coat and pants, along with a singed helmet, might still have some appeal, it has been show to contribute to an increased risk of illness or even death. Ultimately, a modern badge of honor should be a long, fulfilling career in the Fire Service.

To achieve this, it’s important to understand how turnout gear cleaning can play a key role in protecting firefighters from hazardous conditions, and the NFPA 1851 standard lays out the best practices for maintaining fire gear.

Why Do We Need NFPA 1851?

Though firefighters encounter a plethora of dangers on the job, harsh chemical exposure is a leading cause of cancer for many firefighters. The nonprofit Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) reports that there is a 9% higher risk for cancer diagnoses, as well as 14% higher risk of death from cancer among firefighters, than the average American. Cancer affected 66% of line-of-duty deaths from 2002 to 2019. 

In 2020, the NFPA 1851 standard for turnout gear cleaning reconstructed cleaning efficiency and repair testing. The changes focus on all aspects of potential risk from contaminated and damaged gear and covers new practices in selection, care, and maintenance. 

Choosing Turnout Gear 

Finding the right gear for your department is important during the selection process. A risk assessment should be performed to evaluate the turnout gear features needed to meet contamination protection and standard operating procedures. These evaluations help narrow down the best fit gear for your firefighters. 

Inspecting Turnout Gear

The risk assessment requirements conduct advanced inspection to determine potential damage including: 

  • Defected or damaged material 
  • Potentially harmful residue 
  • Physically altered gear 

To keep up with changes in worn frequency and exposure, routine turnout gear inspections should occur before and after every shift to look for:

  • Tainted fabric 
  • Thermal damage 
  • Seam deterioration, tears, or cuts 

Advanced inspections should occur at least once a year to help identify underlying issues with features including outer shell, thermal liner, moisture barrier, particulate blocking technology, trim, and closures. 

Turnout Gear Cleaning and Care

As response teams exit an incident where their turnout gear may have been contaminated, they must immediately begin to remove the dry or wet gear and use proper handling procedure.

Following mitigation procedures, each piece of turnout gear should be bagged individually and transported separately, away from individuals and personal areas. Advanced turnout gear cleaning should occur every six months or when exposed to harsh chemical hazards. The services must be conducted by a certified Independent Service Provider or Verified Cleaner.  

Heavily soiled areas should be pretreated, while liners and outer shells should be separated. The cycle type and time, water level, water temperature, and detergent application should all be selected in accordance with NFPA 1851 to avoid degrading the condition of the gear. 

If a garment needs repair, the gear should be sent directly to the original manufacturer, a verified Independent Service Provider, or a member of the team who has received training and certification in turnout gear repair management. Several Independent Service Providers have shared training programs to promote effective cleaning at the department level, including Intertek Testing Services and Underwriters Laboratories.   

Turnout Gear Maintenance

To successfully store gear, the location must be dry and well-ventilated, as well as temperature controlled with no direct sunlight or UV exposure. The turnout gear cannot be stored with oils, acids, or other solvents. Airtight containers should only be used if the gear is new or unused. 

The maximum limit to fire gear usage is ten years from the manufacturing date, unless exposed to harsh chemical hazards or damaged beyond repair, at which point it should be retired. 

In the Market to Buy Turnout Gear?

Lakeland is passionate about protecting your people. From the frontlines of a structural fire or wildland fire to routine response calls, we’ve got the PPE your firefighters need to do the job safely.

For further information on choosing the right turnout gear for your department, contact a Lakeland specialist today.


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