By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Note: The story you’re about to read is true in every respect except one: There is no Cutting Edge County Fire and EMS Department. All that you’re about to read about—meetings, discussions, decisions—really took place in early August 2019.
Unfortunately, the county where this all took place has a strict policy against any county department endorsing—or giving the appearance of endorsing—a commercially available product. So, all names have been changed to, as the saying goes, protect the innocent but at the same time share their experiences with you, future purchasers of the Solo Rescue SCBA Washer.
When time, place, and opportunity converge at the same time, it can be a wonderful thing. Just ask Firefighter Fred Baxter of the Cutting-Edge County Fire and EMS Department (CECFEMS).
Baxter is currently assigned to Fire Station #12 and he also works in the department’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Center. The PPE Center handles the logistics (e.g., cleaning, testing, and repairing) for all PPE used by the 800+ career personnel and approximately 400 volunteer personnel of CECFEMS.
In June of 2019, CECFEMS purchased its first Solo Rescue SCBA cleaning machine from RESCUE INTELLITECH. Recently, we sat down with Baxter, Captain Rachel Steele, and Malika Stone at CECFEMS’s Logistics Distribution Center (Home to the CECFEMS’s PPE Care Center) to talk about their acquisition.
What’s your current workload for the cleaning of SCBA in your department?
We have roughly 400 SCBA units. The majority of those are obviously in the fire stations; some are at our fire training academy and we keep a few as reserves at our logistics warehouse.
We currently follow NFPA 1852 [Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus] for our SCBA and we clean them at the station level with soap and water as recommended by our SCBA manufacturer. They do not currently get cleaned when they come in for repairs or annual inspection.
How did you learn about the Solo Rescue SCBA cleaning machine?
The first time we heard of the Solo Rescue SCBA washer was in January 2019. One of our people was attending a NFPA meeting and two members from Boston said they were about to buy them and [their SCBA manufacturer] MSA was working with them to certify it.
The unique Solo Rescue® system (above) features a rotating basket that enables the water jets to reach and decontaminate even tight and sometimes hard to reach spaces, such as between the back plate and the cylinders.
This created a series of discussions because now the manufacturers knew the firefighters were wanting this to move forward. With the upcoming release of the latest revision of NFPA 1851], we realized that the dirtiest piece of PPE our firefighters were wearing is their SCBA.
So, with that in mind, we spent the next few months researching the technology behind SCBA washers and this raised another question? With cancer rates in the fire service on the rise, and with our gear getting cleaned more frequently, what else can we do?
We got to thinking about how many times we ride down the road going to EMS calls, rubbing our backs against the SCBA, with only a T-shirt between us and the SCBA. Currently, the manufacturers tell you what’s their recommended way to clean their SCBA but learning about the Solo Rescue machine got the ball rolling to learn more about it when we went to FDIC in April 2019.
What was the sequence of events while you were at FDIC in Indianapolis in April 2019?
FDIC was the first time we met the people from RESCUE INTELLITECH and we saw the Solo Rescue SCBA cleaning machine in person. Peter [Schön], Per [Liberg], Nick [Robertson], and several of us had been talking for several months prior to FDIC. Before we even saw the Solo Rescue for the first time, we [CECFEMS] were already talking about how we could potentially use the Solo Rescue machine.
The first morning at FDIC we had breakfast with Peter at our hotel and I was able to introduce him to Battalion Chief Meg Ryan, our chief of resource management, and James Kirk, the civilian employee who runs our PPE care center. During this meal, Peter and I pitched our vision of how the Solo Rescue would benefit the department and how it would significantly reduce the risk to our personnel from inadequate cleaning of our SCBA to remove chemicals and carcinogens.
Later that afternoon, me, Chief Ryan, and James saw the Solo Rescue machine for the first time. Peter and Nick showed us the ins and outs of the machine and talked about how this machine can also clean boots, helmets, and gloves. By the time we left the stadium we were 99% sure we would buy one and over the next few weeks worked on the details.
How did you pursue the idea of purchasing the Solo Rescue when you returned to Cutting Edge County?
We knew that Peter and his people were working on getting their SCBA washer approved by the various SCBA manufacturers. So, when he told us that they had a different rack for the machine for cleaning helmets, boots, and gloves, this made a light bulb go off in our heads!
Since I also work in our PPE center, I know that helmets, boots, and gloves are the hardest pieces of PPE to clean. We have roughly 2000 complete sets of structural firefighting PPE. This isn’t counting our two-layer special operations gear we have that is cleaned, too.
Our PPE gets cleaned annually and soon it will be twice a year, at a minimum. This isn’t counting the cleaning after every fire, if the firefighter requests their gear to be cleaned.
James and I starting thinking that while we wait for the SCBA manufacturers to approve using the Solo Rescue machine to clean their SCBA, we can use the machine to clean all those helmets, boots, and gloves.
This would help our turnaround times for getting gear back to the field and it would also make the cleaning process safer and more effective and efficient for our staff. After speaking further with Chief Ryan, we came up with a game plan to send up our chain-of-command.
What did the purchasing process entail?
Once we had the approval to go forward with purchasing a Solo Rescue machine, we identified grant money purchase the Solo Rescue machine for its capabilities to clean those PPE elements (e.g., helmets, boots, and gloves) that couldn’t be washed in the washer/extractors more safely, effectively, and efficiently.
Once we get it installed, the Solo Rescue will sit next to the three washer/extractors we currently have in our PPE Care Center. This will give us the ability to mechanically clean all the elements of our PPE. And we look forward to the SCBA manufacturers approving the Solo Rescue for cleaning their products because it will mean that we can clean SCBA more effectively then we currently do.
If you could turn back time, what’s one thing you’d do differently in purchasing the Solo Rescue machine?
Once the machine arrived, we contacted the County about getting the Solo Rescue hooked up with the 208-240 volt 3-phase electrical service required for the machine. We’re in the process of having that work completed. as well as the required plumbing and drainage for the machine.
I think we’d all agree that we should have ensured that we had all the stakeholders involved throughout the process so that everyone is on the same page with what’s happening, and who’s going to be responsible for key tasks.
We’d initially contacted the County electrician about what we would need once we had the machine to make sure we could get the required power. But we didn’t follow up with them as the process moved forward so that they’d have a projected time to have the installation put into their schedule. That probably would have helped the process move more effectively and efficiently for everyone involved.