For several years, the Noblesville Fire Dept. has considered purchasing EMS suits years to protect firefighters and patients from carcinogens. The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the department to acquire the suits.
The NFD has purchased the special suits and expects to receive them next month.
“The International Association of Firefighters has really put emphasis on cancer prevention in firefighters due to the higher incidence of cancer within our profession,” NFD Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services James Macky said. “When a firefighter goes into a fire, they are exposed to smoke and flame and all kinds of chemicals and carcinogens and things like that, so that gear has to be washed to remove those carcinogens and the firefighter has to use a specialized wipe to wipe the face down or exposed skin. They get back to the station and will take a shower to wash all the gunk off of them, but where our challenge has been for a lot of years is, it’s not uncommon for us to be wearing fire turnout gear on an EMS run. So, for example, they could go out on a fire and when they’re done, they might get an EMS run still in that gear that could be dirty, or it’s very common at nighttime that they’ll sleep in shorts and a T-shirt, and when they get a run, even an EMS run, they hop into their bunker pants and go on the run. Well, that potentially carries around carcinogens and things with them in those scenarios.”
Macky said the department wanted to minimize that risk by purchasing gear specifically for EMS runs and not on fire runs. The gear would only be for EMS runs or accident scenes. Approximately 75 percent of the department’s calls are for EMS services.
“If we have turnout gear dedicated to EMS, we are less likely to expose ourselves and our patients to any kind of carcinogens,” Macky said. “So, we have been looking at this trying to figure out what we were going to get. There has been a lot of talk and research in the last year or couple years, and then of course, the pandemic came along and we were having so many issues with PPE.”
Firefighters kept ponchos on hand for EMS runs for COVID-19 patients when gowns or other appropriate PPE wasn’t available.
“We need something that is a little bit more sustainable as far as if we run into PPE shortages, crews have something to wear to protect themselves,” Macky said. “So, we started looking at EMS turnout gear again as a possible option for protecting against COVID-19.”
The type of gear the department purchased has a membrane inside that protects against bloodborne pathogens. The membrane can be removed and cleaned or repaired. The gear also keeps firefighters safe from hazards like glass. The gear is highly visible with bright yellow to protect firefighters from other hazards.
“It does provide higher visibility during the night when they’re out on an accident scene or on a medical run,” Macky said. “They spend time getting in and out of the ambulance or getting equipment out and they’re on the road and at risk for traffic coming by and things like that.”
The department ordered 137 suits, enough for all front-line personnel, both EMTs and paramedics. The total cost for the suits was a little more than $149,000. They have a 15-year shelf life. For more, visit cityofnoblesville.org.
A cheaper option
Part of the reason the Noblesville Fire Dept. waited to order the EMS suits was to utilize another fire department’s bid to lower the cost of the suits.
The NFD joined Indianapolis Fire Dept.’s bid because IFD has already been approved for the suits and could order them. NFD will receive the suits when IFD does.
NFD funded the suits with CARES Act dollars.
“That money afforded us the opportunity to fund the suits, so that was part of this whole thing,” NFD Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services James Macky said.