Pilot study on the efficiency of water-only decontamination for firefighters’ turnout gear

Anthony Calvillo, Erin Haynes, Jeff Burkle, Kenny Schroeder, Angelo Calvillo, Julie Reese, Tiina Reponen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Firefighters are exposed to toxic environments upon entering burning structures. Many structures contain synthetic materials which release toxic chemicals when on fire. These chemicals can enter the body through multiple routes of exposure, including inhalation and skin absorption. Thus, according to the fire departments included in this study, firefighters now conduct on-site decontamination procedures to remove hazardous chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the surface of firefighter turnout gear. Several methods are being practiced at the local level, including decontamination with soap and water, and decontamination with water alone. The water-only decontamination method requires less time and supplies yet has not been investigated as a suitable method for removing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from turnout gear. Therefore, we evaluated the efficiency of this method by measuring PAH concentration levels before and after water-only decontamination. The calculated efficiency displays the percentage of PAHs removed (or not removed) at post-decontamination in relation to the initial sample collected at pre-decontamination. The turnout gear was sampled after live residential structure fires. Firefighter turnout gear was worn throughout Attack, Overhaul Search and Rescue, and Rescue from Fire operations. All firefighters came to a central location for sampling after completing their job responsibilities. Water only decontamination did not appear to be effective, resulting in an overall 42% increase in PAH contamination. The unexpected increase may have been due to disparate pre- and post-decontamination sampling sites on turnout gear.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-205
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 4 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 JOEH, LLC.


  • Contamination
  • PAHs
  • firefighting
  • personal protective equipment
  • volatile organic compounds
  • washing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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