Your Guide to Drying Turnout Gear
Turnout gear, known as bunker gear to some, is made to protect firefighters from the dangers that they encounter as part of their everyday lives. Taking excellent care of that gear is not just something that is important to extending the life of their protective equipment, it is also vital to protecting the life of the firefighter him or herself.
The Dangers of Poorly Cleaned Turnout Gear
During use, the fibers of the turnout gear become saturated with deadly toxins. Exposure to those toxins could lead to a heightened risk of cancer in firefighters. Ideally, gear should be thoroughly cleaned after each use. However, washing turnout gear isn't enough to protect it, and its wearer, from harm.
In the past, turnout gear was often air dried because machine dryers were not adequate to manage the material used in the protective items. Now, turnout gear dyers are not only high in quality, they are also known to be necessary for drying these important items.
The first, and arguably most important issue, is that air drying turnout gear may not be sufficient to getting items completely dry between uses. When a firefighter wears gear that is even slightly damp, this can be a danger. Steam burns or scald burns are a common occurrence with firefighters. These happen when turnout gear is wet, and then exposed to extreme heat.
Another issue with slightly damp turnout gear is storage. If the gear stored while still moist, it can develop mold and mildew. It can also become a breeding ground for bacteria. These issues may seem minor when compared to steam burns, but moldy gear may degrade the quality of the material, which then puts the firefighter in danger. Likewise, being exposed to mold and bacteria is an additional health concern that firefighters don't need.
While it is true that that air drying or line drying turnout gear may not get the gear completely dry, another reason to keep the gear out of the sun is that direct exposure to sunlight can actually cause the material to quickly decay. This creates unnecessary risks to firefighters as well as unneeded expenses to the department when this gear must be replaced.
How to Dry Turnout Gear
The National Fire Protection Association recommends that fire departments use turnout gear dryers that are specifically manufactured for this use. Turnout gear dryers should not be mechanical tumble style dryers, but should allow gear to rest on drying arms. Forced ambient air should then be used to along with sufficient heat to get the gear completely dry.
As you are shopping for dyers, look for those that meet or exceed the NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
Along with the recommendations listed above, the NFPA recommends that PPE dryers reach a high temperature, but not so high that it may cause damage to the equipment. In accordance with this, the NFPA recommends that dryers for fire department gear have built-in heater cutoff and/or a timer that shuts the dryer off after a specific period.
Freestanding Dryers for Fire Department Gear
The best dryers are those that are freestanding. These allow an entire turnout suit to be dried at once. Hanging the ensemble in the dryer lets fans circulate air around and through the equipment, drying it completely.
A department may wish to purchase a dryer system that dries one suit, or up to ten. In most cases, the larger systems that can dry the most gear are the most efficient, though sometimes budgetary or space constraints cause departments to buy the smaller units. It may be possible to request a grant for larger freestanding dryers, which will save time and money in the long run.