Force Protection for Fire Department Line Companies

In a perfect world, firefighters would handle fires, hazardous materials technicians would handle chemical incidents and the two would never cross paths due to the differences in personal protective equipment (PPE) required. While many hazardous materials teams are staffed by firefighters performing a dual role, most firefighters would like to have nothing to do with hazardous materials. The possibility of a terrorist attack involving chemical weapons has forced the fire service to consider providing more chemical protective clothing to line personnel.

In most fire departments prior to 9/11, the Hazardous Material Team was the only unit that carried chemical protective clothing. Some companies may have carried Tyvek or similar suits for use on fuel spills, but not much more. In today's environment, this is not enough. Each company must have the capability to donn chemical protective clothing to assist in mass decontamination operations should a large number of casualties result from an attack involving chemical weapons. For this purpose, the Greensboro Fire Department instituted the use of the WMD Kit for all line companies.

Should a WMD incident occur in Greensboro, the Hazardous Materials Team would handle the entry into the hot zone to conduct air monitoring, agent identification, reconnaissance and victim rescue. Due to the potential number of casualties, line personnel will establish and staff the mass decontamination corridor. While line personnel could staff the corridor wearing their structural firefighting gear and SCBA, it was decided that member safety was paramount and chemical PPE should be provided. This gear is carried in a dedicated equipment bag carried on all apparatus.

WMD Kit Bag Contents

DuPont Tyvek Tychem SL Level B Coveralls - Each kit contains four or five suits depending upon the authorized staffing of the unit. Suits can be ordered in several different sizes to accommodate all personnel. (Remember, it is always better to have suits that are too big as opposed to too small. Most suits carried range from XL - 3X.) These suits can be ordered with or without booties, which needs to be taken into consideration as the excess material in the booties will take up room in the toe of the turnout boots creating an uncomfortable situation. This especially applies to the newer leather turnout boots that generally fit better than the older rubber turnout boots. If suits without booties are ordered, make sure that line personnel are trained to place the leg of the suit over their boots as opposed to inside. This boot/suit seam should be taped. This will help prevent water runoff from accumulating inside the boot.

Ansell Sol-Vex, 11 mil, 13" Nitrile Gloves - One pair of gloves is included for each suit in the kit. The gloves have an embossed texture for improved grip and also protect against abrasions and cuts. The gloves are one size fits all and can be used with a wide range of chemicals.

Onguard Latex Boot Covers - One pair of boot covers is included for each suit in the kit. Boot covers are used to protect the issued leather turnout boots. (Leather cannot be decontaminated.) These covers can also be used to protect rubber turnout boots as well. Size XL will work for most boot sizes, but they can be difficult to apply over larger sizes. The boot covers are disposable and may have to be cut away upon termination of the incident. If not, they will probably rip as they are removed.

Note: The suit, gloves and booties can be vacuum packed in one convenient package for ease of storage, sizing and packaging within the WMD Kit.

Kappler Chem-Tape - One roll per kit. The Chem-Tape is used to tape the seams at the wrists, boots, SCBA facemask and as an added safety for the front zipper. Kappler Chem-Tape has been tested in accordance with Military Standard 282 using several chemical agents. Other tapes may be used, but their compatibility with hazardous materials and chemical warfare agents should be verified beforehand. The Greensboro Fire Department chose Kappler Chem-Tape as a safety issue due to its extensive testing.

M8 Test Paper - One pack per kit. M8 paper works on the color change principle like litmus paper. (Gold = G series nerve agent, Green = VX nerve agent, Red = H series blister agent) There are 25 pages per package. These strips can be attached to PPE, used to sample decontamination runoff or used to check patients.

M9 Test Tape - One roll per kit. M9 Tape also works on the color change principle, but it is not as accurate as the M8 Paper. Red dots appearing on the tape indicate exposure to a chemical agent, but cannot indicate which agent is present. The tape can be easily torn from its dispenser and attached to PPE. It is recommended that one piece be attached left shoulder, one piece attached to the right wrist and a final piece attached to the left ankle. These locations serve two purposes. The three locations monitor at three different heights. The different locations also make it easy for crewmembers to monitor themselves and the other members of their crew for chemical agent exposure.

Field Equipment Bag - One bag per unit to hold the materials mentioned above. The bad should be stored in a compartment to protect it from the weather. If there is room, the bag could be kept in the crew compartment to facilitate donning without having to exit the apparatus into a possibly contaminated atmosphere.

Is The Kit Cost Effective?

The following prices were pulled from several popular suppliers of equipment to the fire service. These prices are straight from the catalogs and do not include shipping, volume discounts, etc. This example will provide enough equipment for a company of six firefighters.

  • DuPont Tyvek Tychem SL Coveralls (Case of 6, $26.67 per suit) $ 159.99
  • Ansell Sol-Vex, 11 mil, 13" Nitrile Gloves (Pack of 12 Pair, $1.90 per pair) $ 22.74
  • Onguard Latex Boot Covers (6 Pair @ $4.18 per Pair) $ 25.08
  • Kappler Chem-Tape (1 Roll) $ 27.00
  • M8 Test Paper (1 Package of 25 Sheets) $ 12.90
  • M9 Test Tape (1 Roll) $ 26.48
  • Field Equipment Bag (1 Each) $ 39.99
  • Grand Total $ 314.18

This breaks down to approximately $ 52.36 per firefighter. To build this entire kit to fully protect six firefighters costs less than a single component of structural firefighting gear. This is a small price to pay to ensure that our members are adequately protected in a chemical agent atmosphere.

Additional Notes

2. Respiratory protection is not included in the WMD Kit. The respiratory protection is provided by the SCBA already carried on the apparatus. Respirators may be used, but issues such as fit testing and agent compatibility arise. Should respirators be used, the agent must be identified first to ensure the proper cartridges are used.

3. The WMD Kit should not be utilized for company level training. Designated training suits should be utilized for this purpose to ensure that the WMD Kit is available for use at all time.

4. The WMD Kit may be used for other emergencies such as fuel spills, but it is recommended that apparatus carry a separate fuel spill kit for this purpose. The Tychem coveralls, Nitrile gloves and latex booties provide much better protection for dealing with a fuel leak as opposed to structural turnout gear as they are disposable. In many cases, cost recovery is possible by billing the responsible party.

5. Chem-Tape should be used to tape seams. M9 Test Tape or Duct Tape are not suitable for this purpose!!

6. Air monitoring is generally thought of as a Hazardous Materials Technician level skill. The M8 Paper and M9 Tape have been adapted from military technology. The M8 and M9 are designed for ease of use on the battlefield in the hands of non-Technician certified personnel. For this reason, it is deemed acceptable for use by line suppression personnel.

7. M8 and M9 are meant to be used as quick identification tool only. Any decisions regarding PPE, medical care, decontamination, etc. should be made only after the M8/M9 results are verified through more reliable means such as the M256 Kit, APD2000, etc.

8. The Level B equipment specified in this article should provide protection for emergency responders operating outside of a structure only. Personnel operating inside the structure should operate in Level A until the chemical agent can be identified.