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Measures against cancer and contamination

Berlin - In addition to many other risks, firefighters also have a higher risk of developing several types of cancer than the average population. The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) has now published an information brochure in which it shows measures for hygiene and against the spread of contamination. We'll also show you best practice examples and other tips.


DGUV: Measures against the spread of contamination

Cancer is by far the leading killer of firefighters. This is the result of a study by Canadian researchers published in 2018. According to this, certain types of cancer occur three times more often in the emergency services than in the normal population.

With DGUV Information 205-035 “Hygiene and avoidance of contamination in the fire brigade” (which you can find here free as pdf download or buy a printed version from mid-July 2020 for a small fee) the DGUV has published a new catalog of measures. The most important quote in advance: “The municipality, as the fire brigade agency, is responsible for the safety and health of the emergency services - and thus also for the derivation and implementation of suitable measures to avoid exposure”.

This means: Your municipality or city must ensure that you have the appropriate equipment and a plan for hygiene measures - for example after a fire. This can include, for example, a second set of personal protective equipment (PPE) and an option for its professional cleaning. In addition, a flow chart should be drawn up for removing contaminated PPE and cleaning it for the first time after use. A detailed flow chart can be found on page 21 of the DGUV Information.

A cool short video about it here:

But: the head of operations and each task force are ultimately responsible for ordering or carrying out these measures. Anyone standing in the smoke in a building fire without breathing apparatus must take responsibility for themselves.

Fire smoke is not the only source of carcinogenic or toxic substances. This can also be contaminated solids, other volatile gases or leaking liquids.

Incidentally, the DGUV recommends PPE with a light-colored outer fabric, because contamination and the subsequent cleaning success are more visible on it. For hygiene measures, air and liquid-tight containers for holding contaminated PPE and equipment should be available at the place of use, as well as cleaning options such as hygiene boards.

Contamination: The 10 most important protective measures in use

We have summarized the 10 most important tips for you again:

1. During extinguishing work wear self-contained breathing apparatus, even in case of supposedly harmless or small fires, such as garbage cans or cars. Harmful pollutants are also released. Use at least a filter for subsequent extinguishing work.

2. Exchange contaminated protective clothing at the point of use. As replacement clothing for the return trip to the base, training clothing in different sizes should be carried on the emergency vehicles.

3. Wash hands, face and neck soon after use. Corresponding hygiene boards are now standard in many modern vehicles; alternatively, clean water from the extinguishing water tank via a pressure outlet on the vehicle also helps.

4. Eating and drinking in dirty work clothing are just as taboo as smoking breaks at the place of use. There is a risk of dirt particles being absorbed into the body through the mouth and breathing.

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5. Executives should be theirs Maintain a role model and not without breathing apparatus watch the attack force during the extinguishing work. Group, platoon or military leaders are also not immune to carcinogenic pollutants.

6. After the use, the may with pollutants Contaminated personal protective equipment and contaminated devices or hoses do not transport in the crew compartment of the fire engine. All of this spreads the contamination.

7. After a fire if possible, take a shower at the fire station. Changing clothes should be deposited there in the personal locker for these cases, because private clothes worn under the protective suit could also be contaminated.

8. Dirty work clothing don't just hang it back in the locker, but consequently to be professionally cleaned. Do not store clothes openly for cleaning, but rather pack airtight, otherwise pollutants will be released.

9. Younger or new emergency services in particular should also in education and during their first missions informed about the correct behavior become. Only in this way can a change in behavior be achieved.

10. Personal assignments and own activities if possible document in detail: When did it burn? What was burning? What did I do for how long? Are there measurement protocols? Who was the chief of operations? Who was involved? Very useful for this: a Respirator logbook.

Gross decontamination and site hygiene

Decontamination is not only necessary for ABC situations. The firefighter and his personal protective equipment are also contaminated with hazardous substances every time a fire is deployed. But many people neglect job site hygiene and the associated gross decontamination. We explain why both job site hygiene and gross decontamination are so important and how they should be carried out.

The fire brigade moves out to a room fire. On the job site, the forces work hand in hand, and many things work naturally. A team wearing respiratory protection quickly gets the fire under control. But after that, when there is no more hurry, things go wrong. The attack force sits back on the vehicle with their dirty protective equipment. The clean machinist trudges into the apartment on fire to fetch a forgotten hand lamp. Job site hygiene cannot be taken for granted.

"Not only in the case of dangerous goods, but also in the case of fire operations, the site hygiene and coarse decontamination are indispensable," emphasizes Christian Schröder, Deputy Head of Environmental Protection of the Association for the Promotion of German Fire Protection (vfdb). "Every firefighter needs to know that if clothing and exposed skin areas are contaminated with soot particles, pollutants can get into the body through intact skin or through being carried over onto food." There is also the risk of inconsistent hygiene measures and a lack of coarse decontamination because damage to health is often not noticeable immediately after the operations.

As a rule, indifference or ignorance of invisible dangers lead to the spread of contamination. “Gaseous pollutants can be stored in clothing, for example,” explains Schröder. “There is a risk that these pollutants will be released again in the crew room of the emergency vehicle and later in the changing room in the tool shed. Damage to health can result from inhalation. "

The right hand hygiene for the fire brigade in action:

More than 90 percent of infections are transmitted through the hands. When the fire brigade is on duty, hands and faces can be contaminated with fire gases or with potentially infectious body fluids from rescued or rescued people or animals. If your hands are dirty after a fire, hygienic hand washing with disinfectant is necessary.

The firefighter should use a washing lotion that contains a high proportion of alcohol and, in addition to the cleaning effect, also reduces germs. The technical term for this cleaning is “hygienic hand decontamination”. This term must also be on the product. The procedure for hand disinfection is described in DIN EN 1499: take 3 milliliters of disinfectant, lather hands for about 30 seconds, clean all spaces, rinse thoroughly with water and dry with a disposable towel.

In the guideline 10/03 “Pollutants in fires”, the vfdb deals with the issue of site hygiene and coarse decontamination. In addition, it published the “Recommendation for fire brigade operations for operational hygiene in the event of fires” as a leaflet (downloadable from

It says: Eating, drinking and smoking when working with heavily soiled clothing should only happen after removing them and thoroughly cleaning the face and hands outside the soot deposition area and away from the smoke cloud. After the deployment, a rough decontamination of the fire brigade's clothing and equipment must be carried out on site. Soiled clothing and equipment must be transported outside the crew cabin or packed in a dust-tight manner.

>> Black and white separation in fire stations <<

Fire brigade in action: simple solutions for hygiene

Manufacturers of vehicle and device technology have come up with solutions to simplify site hygiene and gross decontamination. You build hygiene boards or put together hygiene boxes. “I think the pull-out shelves are sufficient and well suited for fire fighting,” says Schröder. Among other things, compressed air and extra water connections, soap and paper towel dispensers are mounted on it, which enable coarse decontamination after use.

Hygiene boxes serve as an alternative. The fire brigades can pack them independently or order them in full. They can be flexibly loaded onto the vehicles.

In DIN 14800-18, supplement 12, a loading module L1 coarse cleaning is described. According to the standard, a hygiene box should contain:

  • Soap dispenser, leak-proof with around 500 milliliters of washing lotion
  • Hand sanitizer, about 500 milliliters
  • Paper towels, stored moisture-proof
  • B-blind coupling with tap
  • Washing brush with hose connection and approximately 1.5 meter long hose for connection to the tap

“Complete hygiene modules cost between 250 and 300 euros for us,” says Klaus Trusheim from equipment manufacturer Dönges. “There are also minimal solutions: a combination of a blind coupling with a tap, a bottle of liquid soap and a bottle of hand disinfection. If there is no water connection, the fire brigade can also use a canister with a drain cock during operation. "

The Salzgitter Fire Brigade (NI) now makes sure that hygienic equipment for rough cleaning is installed when purchasing vehicles. But fire brigade chief Arne Sicks emphasizes: "I can carry equipment for cleaning with me, but the attitude of the team and their managers is crucial for the hygiene of the scene."

Job site hygiene extends from arrival to departure. Sicks explains: “It is important to allow as few emergency personnel as possible into the areas contaminated by fire smoke, debris and soot. Only a minimum number of people should be in the danger area. Dirty devices should be cleaned before they are removed. "

The vehicle line-up of units moving up must also be observed. It is important for them to set up the vehicles as far as possible outside of the smoke gas zone and to keep the cabins closed during use. Furthermore, vehicles that have been exposed to smoke should be rinsed off briefly - especially if the vehicle hall also serves as a changing room.

The question often arises at the scene of what to do with contaminated clothing. “In winter, as the head of operations, I wouldn't tell my team to completely take off my dirty clothes,” Sicks explains. "Then we would basically have to carry replacement clothing in different sizes and a certain number." This is usually not logistically feasible for fire departments. It would also require an appropriate pool of spare clothing.

Falkensee fire brigade: PPE directly in a bag

There is also a sensible concept in Falkensee (BB, Havelland district). First of all, the detectability of pollutants was one of the reasons why the fire brigade decided to purchase sand-colored protective clothing a few years ago.

“We put contaminated PPE in the bag right at the point of use - namely the entire suit,” emphasizes Frank Christ, Deputy Head of Fire Brigade. All you have to do is take care to remove the integrated chest strap from the jacket. For this, the comrades put on disposable gloves. The bags are hermetically sealed and sent to a special laundry. Since they are made of sugar, the bags go into the laundry with the PPE. The bags dissolve completely during the washing process.

The transport from the place of use takes place in roll containers - currently still with the old logistics equipment trolley (GW-L), a 23-year-old Mercedes 814.

Change firefighter clothing in the equipment trolley

The Mannheim professional fire brigade, for example, has chosen the big solution: a logistics equipment trolley (GW-L). The Mannheimer GW-L is used exclusively to get the crew and vehicles ready for action again directly on site. In addition to breathing apparatus and hose material, the equipment trolley also carries clean work clothing in various sizes.

The interior is also divided into black and white areas. The contaminated firefighter enters through the rear door and puts his clothes in a container. Then he gets into the shower. In the next room he is given clean clothes.

“The vehicle moves out whenever there is a fire in which at least one group was attacking from inside,” says Matthias Wolf from BF Mannheim. "This concept is implemented consistently."

Bremen fire brigade is fighting for new protective clothing

Bremen - The Bremen fire brigade has dealt with the topic of cancer caused by pollutant contamination and has developed a new hygiene concept. As part of the improvement measures, she wants to procure new protective clothing for the more than 1,300 emergency services from BF and FF. However, funding has not yet been secured.

The fire brigade in Bremen was actually quite satisfied with the clothing they introduced in 2000 - at least when it comes to the protection against heat and flames. However, after a symposium organized by the statutory accident insurance, those responsible were made aware of the contamination at deployment sites. A commission set up as a result suggested a replacement procurement in its 140-page result text.

"The clothing of the emergency services must not only protect against fire, heat and the risk of injury, but also against carcinogenic pollutants that can get into the bloodstream through the skin," said Interior Senator Ulrich Mäurer and the head of the Bremen fire brigade, Karl-Heinz Knorr, Some. Mäurer emphasizes that health protection is just as important as occupational safety.

Sand colored clothing with better membrane

In the future, instead of the previous dark blue protective suit, a sand-colored one with the currently technically best membrane will protect against the identified dangers. For this purpose, the Bremen fire brigade completed a one-year wearing test with suits from various manufacturers. The results are currently being evaluated.

With a total of 3,000 sets, the fire brigade wants to create a pool in the future, from which the emergency services of the professional fire brigade and volunteer fire brigade are dressed. However, protective clothing is not expected to be introduced at the BF until 2020 at the earliest, and at the FF from 2021.

Background: Such a contract worth 3 million euros has to be put out to tender across Europe. And first of all, the Senate must approve the funds. After referring to the Senate, the protective clothing and hygiene concept will be presented to the interior deputation. Ultimately, the funds must be released through a resolution by the budget committee. "We are assuming that a decision will be made in this half-year," a spokeswoman for the Senator for Home Affairs told

Optimization of job site hygiene and black and white separation

Part of the hygiene concept is also that in future carcinogenic substances will no longer be carried into the fire stations via dirty clothing. In the future, jackets, pants, helmets and gloves as well as other personal protective equipment should be stored at the place of damage immediately after use and stowed in airtight bags under respiratory protection. The contaminated items of clothing are then cleaned centrally. "The times when our people's boots stood on the guard next to their bed are over," said Chief Fire Director Karl-Heinz Knorr.

The implementation of the hygiene concept should also extend to the fire stations.The Bremen fire brigade is currently testing at Guard 1 to what extent an improved black and white separation can be achieved by color coding building areas and doors. It also tests washing and cleaning systems for personal protective equipment.

Cancer in Germany

  1. Cancer is the second most common natural cause of death in Germany after cardiovascular diseases.
  2. The number of new cancer cases in the total population of Germany was estimated at 225,890 women and 252,060 men in 2012.
  3. The most common types of cancer in men are prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and bladder cancer. In women, the mammary glands, intestines, lungs and uterus are most commonly affected.
  4. Breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer account for the largest proportion of cancer deaths in women. In men, it is lung cancer as well as colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer.
  5. In comparison to other cancers, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, thyroid cancer and tumors in the lymphatic system (Hodgkin's disease) are relatively curable when diagnosed early (!).
  6. Tobacco and alcohol consumption are one of the most important triggers for cancer. The combination of both factors is particularly harmful. In addition, excessive meat consumption and lack of exercise or obesity play a role.
  7. Firefighters are particularly at risk because gases from burning materials are sometimes much more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke.