The clean solution

Fire service: operational hygiene (3/3)

Avoiding contamination after call-outs

‘A shower within an hour.’ This motto is all about getting people washed as soon as possible. Personal protective equipment (PSA) must also be decontaminated, while maintaining separation between clean and dirty areas.

Decontaminating people

The hands, neck (back and front) and face must all be washed on site. Soap-free products that are gentle on the skin are usually best here. Other firefighters wearing protective gear help remove the clothing. The contaminated PPE is packed into airtight crates or bags and transported to the fire station outside of the driver's cab.

Proper clothing removal

Firefighting clothing should be removed in a specific order while wearing disposable gloves to protect the skin from contamination.

If there is no team available to assist with clothing removal, firefighters can wear disposable gloves underneath their protective gear while in action, so that they can later remove their own protective clothing without worrying about contamination. In either case, PPE should be removed in a specific order so that the wearer does not suffer contamination with toxic substances.

Step-by-step PPE removal for wearers of respiratory protective equipment

Separate transport

Contaminated PPE must be transported separately from the crew.

Back at the fire station, all crew who attended the incident should shower immediately. Heat opens pores so shower off with cold water first, before moving on to hot water and soap. Be careful only to enter common areas and social spaces when wearing clean clothes. To ensure that you do not transfer any toxic substances to your home: leave used firefighting clothing in the station and store it separately from your civilian clothes. Never take firefighting clothing home to wash in your domestic washing machine.

Decontaminating PPE

Separate clean and dirty areas at the incident and in the vehicles to avoid contamination on the call-out

Do not enter a vehicle wearing sooty PPE after fighting a fire. Used equipment is handed over to the next crew at the cordon. This avoids cross-contamination. Boots and equipment must be pre-cleaned on site, then packed in airtight containers and transported to the fire station separately from the crew. Contaminated vehicles are washed off with water at the scene, meaning that only the interior still needs washing at the fire station.

Consistent separation of clean and dirty

Clean and dirty areas must be separated throughout the fire station.

Separate clean and dirty areas in the fire station to avoid contamination within the station

Contaminated equipment is cleaned and the soot and dirt removed in a dirty area. Only then can it be returned to the fire engine or storage. Since diesel fumes are carcinogenic, the appliance room must be equipped with a separator system. To stop air pollution moving from the dirty areas to the clean areas, an air-handling unit applies overpressure in the social areas and lower pressure in the dirty areas.

Separating the clean and dirt sides of the SCBA workshop

Modern SCBA workshops are designed to separate clean and dirty. The dirty area is where the SCBA technician cleans contaminated PPE while wearing appropriate protective clothing themselves.

To prevent contamination of the clean side, this work is completed in lower-pressure air than elsewhere. This article shows you how PPE is cleaned in the SCBA workshop, step by step:

Cleaning respiratory protective equipment.

Education, awareness, thinking differently

‘We've always done it like that,’ is easy but dangerous. Many studies worldwide have proven that firefighters face an increased risk of cancer. We must always remind ourselves how valuable our health is – especially since it can be difficult to find practical solutions for our day-to-day lives.

Operational hygiene: an overview

Making a habit of these 8 behaviours will help firefighters to keep contact with dangerous substances to a minimum before, during, and after call-outs.


Operational hygiene goes far beyond hygiene practices at the fire scene itself. Precautionary measures must be taken to minimise the risk of firefighters coming into contact with toxic substances.

  • A good hygiene design can help everyone involved to implement the measures needed in real life.
  • The right incident strategy and a realistic assessment of the danger will help to minimise contamination during the call-out.
  • Finally, carefully maintaining separation of clean and dirty areas while cleaning and disinfecting people and equipment is key to the health of everyone at the fire station.

Do you have questions or would you like to share your experiences of operational hygiene with us? Contact us at