Changing times have been challenging PPE and safety needs for fire departments large and small, and evolving National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for decontamination of gear are top of mind in 2020.
No one knows that more than Chief George Luck Jr. of the Kingston Volunteer Fire Department, a 96-year-old once all-volunteer department, today made up of a small team of part-time, paid professionals on the weekdays, and staffed by volunteers the rest of the time.
Updating their station equipment to address critical decontamination imperatives of today’s firefighting environment has been a big priority for Luck and the Board of Commissioners.
For years, Kingston firefighters had to send their turnout gear out to a neighboring department to get it cleaned and decontaminated. The process worked but left the Kingston team and its community vulnerable when gear was out two to three days or more for cleaning.
With the support of the district’s Board of Commissioners, Luck justified that it was time to invest in onsite decontamination and cleaning equipment for the station in order to reduce his crew’s exposure to toxic contaminants and ensure they were ready and responsive for their community.
After a competitive bid process, Luck turned to Miele, the family-owned, professional laundry technology company, to meet the unique needs of textile and fabricare like those of his volunteer fire crew.
“As a relatively small volunteer fire department, our firefighters often can’t afford to have multiple sets of gear,” Luck said. “The Miele system enables our crew to wash their gear immediately after we get back to the station from a call and return it to service within a few hours. That turnaround time matters when seconds count.”
Miele’s John Lubas, professional technical manager, worked with Luck to develop an on-site solution that would solve Kingston’s need for quick turn, effective decontamination and reprocessing of FR (flame resistant) gear while preserving vapor barrier attributes of the equipment.
Additionally, Kingston needed to ensure the solution would deliver rapid drying capabilities and could fit into limited, existing space at the station.
“Our firefighters are volunteers who aren’t here every day to use the equipment, so we needed something that could be easily programmed and still completely disinfect and re-process not only our turnout gear, but also can clean our gloves, face masks, station wear uniforms, rags from washing the trucks and more,” Luck said. “It’s also important to us as a small district to ensure we don’t pollute our waterways, so the limited environmental impact and reduced water use of the Miele system was a big consideration as well.”
With limited resources, the Kingston station was particularly focused on ensuring that their gear remains in good shape, and that means preserving the integrity of specialty FR and vapor barrier textiles to remain compliant with NFPA standards. The Miele team installed its 25–pound capacity Performance Plus PW 811 washer and PT 8303 dryer system in spring 2020.
The Miele Performance Plus PW 811 washer is part of Miele Professional’s Benchmark Machines line of industrial washer extractors. In addition to the technology’s ability to reduce infection potential and minimize utility costs, these washers feature a purpose-designed suds container which reduces water levels for the wash and rinse cycles. The innovative EcoSpeed wash rhythm controls the drum rotational speeds, enabling the washers to clean extremely effectively in short cycle times to maximize water and energy efficiency.
The Miele PW 811 and Miele PT 8303 dryer work as a system, with dryer features that alternate tumbling action for improved garment dispersion and to ensure consistent and even, crease-free drying. Residual moisture sensors drive optimum results for turnout gear that features layers of textiles with varying dry times and heat sensitivities.
In addition to the equipment, Lubas also brought in partner and textile cleaning specialists Kreussler as part of the installation and training to help the Kingston team understand how to extend the service life of its vital PPE.
“The first rule of PPE is do no harm, which means that the chemistry of cleaning solutions has to address the inherent safety features of the material,” said Rich Fitzpatrick, vice president at Kreussler. “In turnout gear, each layer has highly specific temperature thresholds, chemical protectants, reflective attributes, breathability or other sensitive and specific attributes, so the chemistry and the equipment have to work together to disinfect, remove grease and stains and toxic contaminants all without affecting each fabric’s ability to do its job.”
“As a volunteer firefighter myself, my gear is the only thing keeping me safe, so I need to have confidence that the machine and chemicals that clean it are preserving the integrity of literally each layer. Miele’s technology is proven to effectively and safely clean the most delicate fabrics – its inherent in the design, and unique in its ability to easily program the cycle to clean all of the layers with such precision and specificity,” said Tom McAllister, technical sales rep for Kreussler.
The right chemistry is extremely important, and one of several variables that factor into ensuring turnout gear is properly decontaminated and ready to be put back into service. The right program, highly tuned mechanical action, specific chemistry, load size and time all contribute to the end result and ultimate effectiveness and safety of firefighters’ lifesaving PPE.
“Firefighters and first responders put their lives on the line to protect us every day,” said Paulo Rocha, Miele’s head of Commercial Laundry, Dishwashing and Marine. “When that siren goes off, they do not have time to wonder if their gear is going to protect them, or worse yet, harm them. I’m proud of the fact that I can say with confidence that Miele technology delivers vital protection to them in return.”
“We take safety very seriously, and our people are our greatest asset,” Luck said. “Some of our members are fourth and fifth generation volunteer firefighters with our department and have served for decades. Our members are part of this community too, so it’s important that we invest in the best equipment that will help keep them safe. For us, that is Miele.”
* This article was submitted by Miele.