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Why Clean, Repair and Test PPE?

NFPA 1851 recognizes nine categories of hazards that firefighters potentially encounter:
•  Physical - including projectiles, sharp objects, abrasive surfaces, and slippery surfaces.
•  Environmental - including ambient heat, cold, water, wind, and low lights.
•  Thermal - including high convective and radiant heat, steam, hot liquids, and molten metals.
•  Chemical - including inhalation, absorption, injection and chemical explosions.
•  Biological - including blood borne and airborne pathogens, and biological allergies.
•  Electrical - including high voltage, arc flashover and static charges.
•  Radiation - including ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
•  Operational - including drowning and falling.
•  Ergonomic - including range of motion, comfort, visibility, communication ease, and back support.

Firefighter PPE is specifically designed to reduce as many of these hazards as possible. PPE which is well-maintained is able to retain the integrity of its protective features for the ten-year lifetime of the equipment. On the other hand, poorly maintained equipment can present a direct hazard to the user. For instance, prolonged exposure to smoke residue can weaken garment integrity. Broken stitches, charring, and burn holes in the outer garment increase the danger of physical, chemical, electrical and biological hazards. Shifting or loose thermal and moisture barriers can sharply reduce their ability to withstand heat, electrical and environmental hazards. Garments exposed to biological, chemical and radiation hazards which are improperly cleaned can expose other firefighters, family members and the surrounding community to toxic chemicals and pathogens.

There is a economic benefit to properly maintained equipment as well. Investing in the proper maintenance of equipment will reduce the overall PPE budget. Additionally, PPE which is at the end of operational life can still fulfill useful roles in training and public education events.

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