Ask the Expert – Decontaminating EMS/firefighter equipment

By: February 17th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

Q: We have taught our paramedics and firefighters that their uniform is NOT PPE and that if their bunker gear gets soiled with blood or other potentially infectious materials, it may be hard to decontaminate. Do you have any suggestions for the cleaning of bunker gear and the heavy leather gloves they use?

A: While there are plenty of laundry regulations concerning PPE for healthcare workers, there are few guidelines for paramedics or firefighters. However, there are plenty of instances where both could come in contact with bloodborne pathogens.

Thomas Huser, MS, CHSP, safety coordinator of Emergency Management and Hazardous Materials, with Clarion Health in Indianapolis, and author of this book, emphasized that following the manufacturer’s instructions is crucial since different uniforms are made of very specific materials. For example firefighter uniforms are made of Kevlar® fiber, which is destroyed when washed with bleach. Particular detergents and even specific washing machines need to be used during the process.

Huser recommended this site, particularly for firefighter uniforms. Under the title “Decontamination” it reads:

“For extreme contamination with products of combustion, fire debris or body fluids, removal of the contaminants by flushing with water as soon as possible is necessary, followed by appropriate cleaning. In the case of bloodborne pathogens, recommended decontamination procedures include using a .5 to 1% concentration of Lysol®, or a 3-6% concentration of stabilized hydrogen peroxide. Liquid glutaraldehyde, available through commercial sources, will also provide high to intermediate levels of disinfectant activity. Decontamination may not be possible when protective clothing is contaminated with chemical or biological agents. When decontamination is not possible, the garments should be discarded in accordance with local, state and federal regulations. Garments that are discarded should be destroyed.”

It’s also worth noting that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) created Standard 1999, which addresses clothing and equipment worn by emergency service workers (including glove and garments). NFPA released an updated 2008 edition of this standard, which is especially appropriate for first responders. Before this edition there were very few standards concerning reusable footwear and gloves. The new edition has been adopted by the Department of Homeland Security, meaning the standard is a requirement if you are using federal grants.

Overall emergency medical protective clothing follows dramatically improved criteria as of late, but the decontamination of that equipment still needs to follow manufacturer’s instructions because of the sensitive materials.

For more advice on healthcare laundry guidelines, click here.


By Greg Hart on July 19th, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Hello David,

We are a large multi campus R&D facility, and over the past few years have had a collection of events where we needed to escort the fire department to an area of concern. We have and wear SCBAs, but recently the suggestion of having structural or SAR gear has come up. The issue is mostly about the amount of training needed to perform a simple task like escort in this gear. We do not currently have the ability to train extensively and are looking for some practical solution to address. Do you have any advice or know of someone that may? Also, any recommendations in gear?

Thank you,




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