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September 27, 2021

Fire masks for RFS volunteers under the spotlight

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As the bushfires have raged across NSW and fire fighters are spending longer hours fighting fires in shifts that often exceed 12 hours many people have become concerned about the quality of the respiratory protection provided. As a result many brigades and communities have started raising funds to purchase P3 masks that have two stage filter systems. However, an operational brief that was received by rural volunteer firefighters from the rural fire service (RFS) on Wednesday raising concerns that crowd funding pages were being established ‘without the appropriate authority’. 

They further stated that ‘NSW RFS firefighters are provided all necessary tools and equipment to undertake their work. This includes fire appliances and associated hoses, nozzles, and all personal protection equipment including respiratory protection’.

Fine particulate matter dangerous

Fine particulate matter, smaller than 2.5μm, are known to penetrate and lodge in the lungs, and they can impact on people’s health from asthma to multiple types of cancer and present an ongoing risk to firefighters.

The desire for more effective breathing apparatus has been championed by Byron Bay Rural Fire Brigade Captain, Dough Rowley who told Echonetdaily that ‘the masks provided by the RFS are grossly inadequate in the thick acrid smoke; they just don’t work’.

However, according to the brief that ‘The Service recently worked closely with Safe Work NSW to ensure our P2 fire resistant masks are fit for purpose considering heat generated particulate filtration, ergonomics, metabolic heat retention, breathing resistance and risks associated with maintenance and use of defective equipment.

‘I went to the store for the Byron Shire RFS about two weeks ago and there were no disposable masks available,’ said Captain Rpwey.

‘The disposable masks that they supply are single use, and can become a bit of a nightmare as people can get a bit caught up and tangled in the elastic that they use to secure them. After 12 hours on the fire ground they are covered in sweat and they are just terrible.

‘It is unfortunate that Deputy Commissioner Rogers has been reactive rather that proactively embracing the concept of the future investigation of alternative fire masks for use.’

The Byron Bay Fire Brigade are looking onto the purchase of 7 in  1 3M 6800 gas masks for its members.

‘The ethos of the RFS firefighters is putting the firefighters first and foremost,’ he said.

Review

According to the brief from RFS ‘For the Service to consider changing any of its provided firefighting equipment and apparel, we would require a full and comprehensive scientific research and evaluation process.’

‘A periodic review of personal protective equipment, which will include helmets, goggles, boots and face masks is scheduled for the end of the fire season.’


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