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True North Gear Blog

Jul 09

Stephen B.

PPE Decontamination | How the Decon™ Bag Helps to Lower Firefighter Exposure to Harmful Carcinogens

Posted by Stephen B.

PPE Gear Exposes firefighters to known harmful carcinogens

While firefighters perform a dangerous job, to begin with, the danger doesn’t necessarily recede once they’ve exited the fireground. Research has shown that fires, and particularly house fires, contain known harmful contaminants that play a crucial role in developing cancer. During any given fire, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is exposed to a plethora of these carcinogens, which leaves the firefighter vulnerable to skin absorption and/or inhalation following the incident. Moreover, these carcinogens can and will stay active until the turnout gear is properly laundered.

Dirty turnout gear on firefighters after house fire

This has led to a wave of recent studies which reveal that exposure to these harmful contaminants left on dirty turnout gear is linked to the increasing number of cancer diagnoses seen in the firefighting community - particularly the elevated rate of mesothelioma in which the contaminants are commonly found in house & structure fires. While proper laundering certainly eliminates exposure to said carcinogens, decontamination truly starts immediately after exiting the fireground. However, there are unfortunately very few options that currently exist for safely removing contaminated gear after a call - This is exactly the void which the Decon™ Bag serves to fill.

The decon™ bag adds an important layer of protection off the line of duty

True North® recently held a survey in collaboration with Fire Engineering to gather statistics on decon practices in the US. What was concluded is that only 29% of the respondents reported using any type of decon bag to store their dirty turnout gear. This likely isn’t a result due to lack of education on the subject but rather the lack of viable, and safe options for storing contaminated gear. As an alternative, it is popular with current decon practice to use a plastic garbage bag to store contaminated gear before it is laundered.

While this works to prevent full exposure to dirty turnout, there are still a variety of issues with using plastic trash bags. Two main problems are A) a trash bag will not fully contain contaminants from leaking into the cab and ultimately lungs of those within proximity, and B) is a wasteful practice from an environmental standpoint given that they cannot be reused. This rings even more true for volunteer firefighters, who put themselves, and potentially family members at even greater risk by storing contaminated turnout gear in their privately owned vehicles for transport.

Decon™ bag with turnout gear

The Decon™ bag ultimately serves to be a main, and reusable product for the firefighter decon kit. It is large enough to hold all of an individual’s turnout gear while still retaining a compact size that can be easily stored in the cab or personal vehicle for safe transportation. Additionally, the Decon™ Bag has a roll-top design with a fitted buckle to assure that no contaminants have the room to escape.

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Breakdown of using plastic trash bags vs. the Decon™ bag

Plastic Trash Bags True North Decon™ Bag
Reduces firefighter exposure to carcinogens Seals in contaminated gear with an airtight, waterproof design
Can be transported back and held until the gear is safely laundered Abrasion-resistant
Constant expense Made with 210 Denier coated nylon
- Can hold up to repeated laundering
- Large enough to fit all turnout gear
- Can be safely stored in a cab or personal vehicle without the risk of exposure to cancer-causing contaminants
- One-time expense
- Welded seams which can withstand 2x the average amount of normal wear-and-tear

Eliminating waste - A more circular approach to firefighter decon

Another aspect to consider when using large trash bags is the environmental impact they cause. Between the years of 2012 and 2016, the NFPA found that there was an average of 355,400 house fires in the US per year. Additionally, the NFPA also states that a minimum of 4 firefighters is recommended to man a fire engine at a given time. Given that current decon practice is to use a large trash bag to trap dirty turnout gear after a fire call, this is how we’ve come to the following conclusions.

Taking into account the number of house fires on average, firefighters use 1.42 million plastic trash bags per year for decon. This conclusion is drawn from the minimum recommended number of firefighters as per the NFPA guidelines. That being said, this number is flexible and could be less but is also likely to be much greater depending on the size of a fire.

circular economy

We took the environmental impact of plastic trash bag usage into heavy consideration during the design of the Decon Bag. Because of this, one of the most important components of the Decon™ Bag is that it provides a reusable option that can hold up to repeated laundering. During a recent wear trial we conducted with a local Snohomish County fire department, the Decon™ Bag was washed 20 times in the extractor and was found to still be in a completely usable condition. Here are the key design aspects which make the Decon™ Bag a reusable option that aides in the PPE cleaning process:

  • Airtight, waterproof design
  • Durable construction which holds up to repeated laundering in the extractor
  • Abrasion-resistant
  • Large enough to hold all turnout gear

PPE cleaning: How the decon™ bag is loaded

The approach to PPE decontamination with the Decon™ Bag is easy and straightforward. In the following video, Captain Aaron Heller demonstrates how he loads his turnout gear.


He begins with loading in a personal towel and gloves at the bottom of the bag.



He folds his pants and jacket so that they fit within the diameter of the bag and place them in on top of the smaller items.



He stands the bag upright to place is helmet and boots in on the top. Captain Heller then assures there is ample room to secure the equipment safely inside.


Lastly, he pushes the gear as far down as possible and rolls the top in order to trap the contaminated air inside the bag, buckles the top, and the process is completed in just one and a half minutes.


Where can you buy the decon™ bag?

Below is a list of our partnered dealers for the Decon™ Bag release, all of which currently have stock available.

The Fire Store

Fire Safety Services, Inc

LN Curtis

If you've already pre-ordered the Decon™ Bag, please contact True North customer service to complete the ordering process.

Providing gear to make the clean cab concept more attainable for everyone

The clean cab concept is a practice that revolves around cancer prevention initiatives. Much like the idea behind the Decon™ Bag, the clean cab concept also focuses on reducing, and ultimately eliminating firefighter exposure to cancer-causing contaminants. However, how it is implemented from department to department can vary depending on what they are and aren’t willing to change.

PPE cleaning

For example, Chief Frank Babinec of the Coral Springs Fire Department explained how their cabs are all designed with the clean cab concept in mind. “Anything that goes into a fire doesn’t go back into the cab of the vehicle until it is fully decontaminated.” The Decon™ Bag makes this process easier for firefighters with its airtight design, allowing for easy storage in the cab without the risk of exposing its passengers to carcinogens. Other efforts include the National Fire Fighter Registry which was signed into legislation on July 9th, 2018 in an effort to track links between occupational exposure and cancer.

Order the Decon™ Bag

Overall, the firefighting community is becoming increasingly more aware of how important PPE decontamination is in the fight against cancer. While new practices and procedures can sometimes take a while for people to adopt, it is never too early to be prepared and stay protected. The Decon™ Bag is simply a step in a larger process towards reducing cancer rates which will involve time, research, and implementation.

PPE Decontamination | How the Decon™ Bag Helps to Lower Firefighter Exposure to Harmful Carcinogens
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