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Control measure

Firefighter decontamination

Control measure knowledge

The type of decontamination will be based on several factors:

  • The level and type of personal protective equipment (PPE) (structural firefighting PPE, liquid-tight or gas-tight chemical protective clothing or reusable or disposable protection)
  • The type and quantity of contaminant
  • The type and availability of decontamination additives
  • The ability to monitor and detect contamination
  • The availability of drainage and containment options
  • The conditions of the weather (rain and wind)
  • The topography of the area
  • The availability of equipment to conduct the decontamination

The location of the decontamination area should consider the following:

  • The topography of the ground – it should be a flat area or sloped away from unprotected personnel in the cold zone
  • Wind direction should be blowing away from unprotected personnel
  • Any drainage in the area should be identified as either surface, foul or combined drainage and then blocked using a suitable drain blocker or mat
  • It should be set up in the cold zone until ready to receive contaminated members of personnel, at which point it will become the warm zone
  • It should be appropriately marked to prevent unprotected people from entering the decontamination zone
  • Operational circumstances and the risk assessment 
  • The level and method of decontamination 
  • The weather conditions 
  • Location of breathing apparatus entry control 
  • Location of a pumping appliance if wet decontamination is being provided

Disrobe assistants

The process of undressing contaminated personnel presents a high risk of contamination passing from the PPE to the operative and responder. The application of a strict and well-rehearsed undressing procedure is important in preventing this. It is important for personnel involved in this process to fully understand their role and the procedures to be adopted.

Every attempt should be made to contain run-off from the decontamination process until expert advice is received regarding appropriate disposal. See also Disposal of contaminated water (October 2012)

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Have systems to assess contamination of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment

  • Provide suitable equipment to conduct a decontamination process, or range of decontamination processes, based on the types of contamination likely or possible to be encountered during operational incidents in their area

  • Ensure personnel that respond to HazMat incidents are provided with the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding to operate decontamination effectively

  • Provide hazardous materials advisers (HMA) to determine appropriate decontamination including the use of any additive to assist in removing the contaminant

  • Make arrangements for dealing with contaminated equipment, including equipment used inside the hot zone and the decontamination equipment used for the decontamination process

  • Develop a decontamination method that allows for a dry/safe undress of contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • Develop a range of emergency decontamination methods where speed is required when there has been a failure of air supply or personal protective equipment (PPE) or when contamination has occurred when only structural firefighting PPE is being worn

  • Consider a methodology for dealing with personal protective clothing (PPE) when decontamination has failed to clean away the contaminant

  • Consider a process for disposing of items that are deemed disposable

  • Provide arrangements for decontaminating or disposing of contaminated equipment that has been used inside the hot zone; this will require advice from specialist advisers

  • Provide arrangements for dealing with the decontamination equipment once the process has been completed

  • Have arrangements for testing reusable chemical protective clothing (CPC) which will confirm that CPC can be safely returned to service after decontamination, if appropriate. This includes accepting the risk around re-using CPC

  • Have procedures for decontamination zone management which should be readily available to incident commanders and officers with specific responsibility for decontamination on the fire ground

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Consider firefighter decontamination arrangements prior to committing personnel to the hot zone

  • Attempt to contain all run-off from the decontamination process until disposal arrangements are agreed

  • Provide disrobe assistants in suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) to assist contaminated personnel