Are we capable of maintaining personnel protective equipment (PPE) ourselves? Of course you can. How much of it depends on the extent of the work to be done, how much knowledge, and training you have on the requirements of NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2008 Edition.
If your PPE has been routinely cared for in the past, chances are you can do most of the work yourself. However, if you have unmaintained PPE with extensive repair, the more likely it is that you'll need either your PPE manufacturer or manufacturer trained and documented independent service provider (ISP) help to see you through it.
The biggest mistake made is attempting to maintain PPE without receipt of documented training from your manufacturer, properly planning ahead, and knowing whether or not you have the ability to handle the project properly.
Consult With Your PPE Manufacturer
NFPA 1851 requires organizations to consult with their PPE manufacturer to receive documented training for proper cleaning and care of their products. Your PPE manufacturer will be able to provide you with step-by-step cleaning, inspection, and repair requirements by element. Note: If your department has a variety of manufacturers you will have to receive training from each one.
Cleaning - Ask your PPE manufacturer what kind of equipment and equipment specifications is required to properly conduct routine, advanced and specialized cleaning on their products. Your PPE manufacturer should also be able to provide you with step-by-step guidelines, by element that you can incorporate into your standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Inspection - Ask your PPE manufacturer what kind of equipment and equipment specifications is required to properly conduct routine and advanced inspection on their products. Your PPE manufacturer should also be able to provide you with step-by-step guidelines, inspection forms, and checklists by element that you can incorporate into your SOPs.
Repair - Ask your PPE manufacturer what kind of equipment and equipment specifications is required to properly conduct basic repair (all elements) and advanced garment repair for their products. Your PPE manufacturer should also be able to provide you with step-by-step guidelines by element you can incorporate into your SOPs.
Record keeping - Advanced cleaning, inspection, and all repairs must be documented. What form of recordkeeping does your PPE manufacturer recommend your department utilize? If your department elects to utilize an ISP, does your PPE manufacturer support the ISP to ensure your records are made accessible to your department?
Of course, many fire departments decide to tackle PPE maintenance to save money. Utilizing ISPs can be quite high in cost, so if you have the right skills and training you can save money in the long run. If, however, you realize an ISP will get the task done faster than you (and achieve a better result) forking over a little more cash may save you trouble and make the endeavor easier overall.
A great compromise is to take advantage of both worlds. Contract an ISP for the really difficult grunt work that requires special expertise. For instance, many fire departments have washing machines, so it makes sense to leave this type of maintenance for the department. Allow the ISP to handle diesel fuel specialized cleaning.
Be honest with yourself from the beginning - for advanced inspection and repair, utilizing an ISP may be your best bet. For advanced cleaning and basic repair (i.e. snap replacement), providing this service in-house might be the smartest choice. It really all depends on your abilities and the difficulty of the task at hand. The amount of time and resources you can commit to a project is also something to take into consideration.