Is a “real” firefighter, a “dirty” firefighter?


The popular image of a post-event firefighter covered with soot has become an iconic vision of a “strong” person. However, the truth is that this firefighter is engulfed in toxic byproducts that can cause cancer years after the incident. That’s why we need to question the myth that a “real” firefighter is a “dirty” firefighter.

There are numerous ways firefighters are exposed to carcinogens. One common danger is when firefighters remove their SCBA too soon, before the air has been deemed safe. This can cause direct exposure through inhalation and skin exposure to toxic gases. To identify the presence of toxic and carcinogenic substances, it is important to analyze fire suppression at the incident and make sure that best practices are followed.

Cleaning, Safe-handling, and Maintenance are Critical

After the flames die and the fire has been extinguished, toxins from fumes and soot linger on the surface of the firefighter’s personal protective equipment, mask and skin. It is imperative that personal protective equipment be properly cleaned and handled so potential toxins are not spread to other people in transportation vehicles, fire stations, or their homes. Just as decontamination is the only way to remove toxins from PPE, showering immediately after the incident is the only way to remove toxins from the skin.

It’s therefore fair to conclude that a professional firefighter does not need to be portrayed as “dirty and sooty” – but rather as someone who dons clean PPE and conscientiously follows the necessary safe-handling workflow routines. This is how they save their own lives, in addition to the lives of others.

Global Cleaning Procedures Infographic

Just because the fire is out doesn’t mean the danger is over. Avoid the possibility of spreading the toxins by following proper cleaning procedures.

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How to deal with overhaul risks

After a fire is extinguished, it is important to stay away from toxic gases, liquids and particles. In this animation, you’ll see how to avoid hazards that appear when the obvious danger is over.


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