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Can We Actually Protect Our First Responders?

Can We Actually Protect Our First Responders?


With the plethora of types of calls that our nation’s first responders encounter, can we actually protect them from every hazard or do we just need to tell them that this is a job that will possibly cost their life?

Let’s consider what is being asked of the first responders at this point. However, I will start that I am a huge safety proponent. In fact, I am a board liaison to one of the nation’s most prominent health and safety groups in the International Fire Service. 

Hazards of the Job

Today’s firefighters are asked to go to fires, respond to emergency medical calls, make entry into hazardous materials environments, provide at least first response to technical rescue events, be the nation’s first line of defense for terrorist attacks, and now respond to mass and active shooter events in very close proximity to the actual shooting. 

While many of these events have occurred over the years, the level of understanding of the various events and their hazards have changed. In addition, 9/11 provided the public the impression that firefighters can battle everything.


What personal protective equipment (PPE) should we put our firefighters in at the beginning of their shift considering the wide range of events and the possibility that hazard recognition may not be immediate?

Should we make their fire gear ballistic, but disposable? Should we make the gear convertible from technical rescue gear to structural to wildland gear, all while making sure its blood-borne pathogen resistant? Moreover, how do we convert it to a Level A hazmat entry suit?

While NFPA standards have done a great job at making some of this happen, we are in a real dilemma of “do you make it do more and cost more or make it disposable because we cannot get the carcinogens out of it?”

What will the Future Hold?

Currently you are seeing fire chiefs’ pushback at the rising cost of PPE and the replacement schedules of the gear.  You are seeing studies emerge that state we can clean the gear every fire and still not keep the carcinogens out.  Active shooter events are not readily obvious–think about those firefighters that were ambushed going to a house fire.

How will you participate in the future of our PPE?

American Military University


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