KINGSTON, N.J. — Changing times have been challenging personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety needs for fire departments large and small, and evolving National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for decontamination of gear are top of mind.
No one knows that more than Chief George Luck Jr. at New Jersey’s Kingston Volunteer Fire Department, a 96-year-old department that has always adapted with the times to serve its community.
A small town in central New Jersey, Kingston is a sleepy commuter suburb with buildings that range from historic homes dating back to the Revolutionary War, to modern corporations, hotels, assisted living facilities and North American headquarters for global pharmaceutical giants.
The constant for the past nearly 100 years has been the dedication and commitment of the Kingston Fire Department.
The needs of this small but mighty force have evolved with the times. Once an all-volunteer department, today the team is made up of a small team of part-time, paid professionals, Monday-Friday, and staffed by volunteers the rest of the time.
Updating their station equipment to address critical decontamination imperatives of today’s firefighting environment has been a big priority for Chief Luck and the District’s Board of Commissioners.
For years, Kingston firefighters had to send their turnout gear out to a neighboring department to get it cleaned and decontaminated. The process worked but left the Kingston team and its community vulnerable when gear was out two-three days or more for cleaning.
With the support of the District’s Board of Commissioners, Chief Luck justified that it was time to invest in onsite decontamination and cleaning equipment for the station to reduce his crew’s exposure to toxic contaminants and ensure they were ready and responsive for their community.
After a competitive bid process, Chief Luck turned to Miele, the family-owned, professional laundry technology company that has been driving innovation in laundry for 120 years, to meet the unique needs of textile and fabricare like those of his volunteer fire crew.
“As a relatively small volunteer fire department, our firefighters often can’t afford to have multiple sets of gear,” he says. “The Miele system enables our crew to wash their gear immediately after we get back to the station from a call and return it to service within a few hours. That turnaround time matters when seconds count.”
Miele’s John Lubas, professional technical manager, worked closely with Chief Luck to develop an on-site solution that would solve Kingston’s need for quick turn, effective decontamination and reprocessing of FR (flame resistant) gear while preserving vapor barrier attributes of the equipment.
Additionally, Kingston needed to ensure the solution would deliver rapid drying capabilities and could fit into limited existing space at the station.
“Our firefighters are volunteers who aren’t here every day to use the equipment, so we needed something that could be easily programmed and still completely disinfect and reprocess not only our turnout gear, but also can clean our gloves, face masks, station wear uniforms, rags from washing the trucks and more,” Luck says.
“It’s also important to us as a small district to ensure we don’t pollute our waterways, so the limited environmental impact and reduced water use of the Miele system was a big consideration as well.”
With limited resources, the Kingston station was particularly focused on ensuring that their gear remains in good shape, and that means preserving the integrity of specialty FR and vapor barrier textiles to remain compliant with NFPA standards. The Miele team installed its 25-pound capacity Performance Plus PW 811 washer and PT 8303 dryer system in spring 2020.
In addition to the equipment, Lubas also brought in partner and textile cleaning specialists Kreussler as part of the installation and training to help the Kingston team understand how to extend the service life of its vital PPE. Plenty of machines in the market can clean the gear but may leave it looking dingy or faded or impact its performance. Or it may look clean, but the smell of smoke from a house fire can be hard to get rid of.
“The first rule of PPE is do no harm, which means that the chemistry of cleaning solutions has to address the inherent safety features of the material,” says Rich Fitzpatrick, vice president at Kreussler.
“In turnout gear, each layer has highly specific temperature thresholds, chemical protectants, reflective attributes, breathability or other sensitive and specific attributes, so the chemistry and the equipment have to work together to disinfect, remove grease and stains and toxic contaminants all without affecting each fabric’s ability to do its job.”
Miele’s relationship with Kreussler goes back many years, and their close collaboration has enabled both companies to maximize their research and design efforts to respond to the rapidly evolving PPE textile segment.
“As a volunteer firefighter myself, my gear is the only thing keeping me safe, so I need to have confidence that the machine and chemicals that clean it are preserving the integrity of literally each layer,” says Tom McAllister, technical sales rep, Kreussler.
“Miele’s technology is proven to effectively and safely clean the most delicate fabrics—it’s inherent in the design and unique in its ability to easily program the cycle to clean all of the layers with such precision and specificity.”
“Firefighters and first responders put their lives on the line to protect us every day,” says Paulo Rocha, Miele’s head of Commercial Laundry, Dishwashing and Marine. “When that siren goes off, they do not have time to wonder if their gear is going to protect them, or worse yet, harm them.
“I’m proud of the fact that I can say with confidence that Miele technology delivers vital protection to them in return.”
“We take safety very seriously, and our people are our greatest asset,” Chief Luck reflects. “Some of our members are fourth- and fifth-generation volunteer firefighters with our department and have served for decades.
“Our members are part of this community, too, so it’s important that we invest in the best equipment that will help keep them safe. For us, that is Miele.”
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