A dry season combined with dense vegetation - like the landscape of the western United States - is especially prone to wildfires. Wildfire conditions can worsen in the summer, where rising temperatures, droughts, and inconsistent rainfall add to the danger and duration of the wildfire season. Autumn offshore winds can cause wildfires to spread, leading to immense damage and danger.
Even when the immediate danger of wildfires has passed, the hazards remain. Heat and smoke affect air quality. Flames or embers might still be around during cleanup efforts, ready to ignite the leftover debris. The physical, mental, and emotional stress caused by the situation can make you more vulnerable to accidents, illness, and injuries.
Before you return to a burned area after a wildfire, you need to get PPE and safety supply essentials for fire cleanup to protect yourself from smoke and poor air quality. Professionals, volunteers, and homeowners alike should proceed carefully and as well-equipped as possible.
What is the best PPE against fire hazards?
Anyone going into a fire cleanup site should have head-to-toe protection. Hazards exist for every part of the body from your face to your feet. You'll want garments that minimize skin contact with hazards, improve worker visibility, maintain comfort and mobility, and decrease the risk of exposure to hazards like electrical or chemical burns, shrapnel, loud noises, and other hazards. Disposable PPE can also be helpful in cleanup situations to avoid adding to the laundry list of things you need to do after a wildfire.
The requirements of your worksite will vary, but in general, you'll likely need PPE for fire cleanup in these categories:
- Hard hats - essential for protection from falling trees, limbs, rocks, building debris, and other hazards. Choose vented, lightweight ones that you can attach goggles, headlamps, and other accessories to.
- Face and neck shrouds - for protecting and cooling the neck and shoulders.
- Eye protection - vented goggles or splash protection goggles are the best choice for fuller coverage while allowing the use of prescription glasses. Face shields are recommended only as a supplement.
- Shirts and trousers that are inherently fire resistant or treated with fire-resistant chemicals. High-vis is also a great feature. Choose something comfortable enough to move and work in.
- Gloves - blisters, cuts, scratches, and minor burns are all part of the work. Gloves are also another layer of protection between your skin and potential hazards.
- Boots - look for durable boots with skid-resistant soles.
- Respiratory protection - at a minimum, stick with dust masks and respirators with N95 or P95 rated filters to help protect against breathing in harmful particulates
- A fire shelter for additional clean air and a place to rest when you're working hard.
What PPE protects against inhalation of debris?
Respiratory protection is necessary at all stages of wildfire cleanup. Even after the wildfire dies down, there are still hazards that can be inhaled during cleaning, restoration, and reconstruction efforts. Ash, soot, demolition and nuisance dusts, cleaners, disinfectants, paint and adhesive vapors, and other materials present hazards to your respiratory system.
Look for respirators tested and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Generally, N95 or P95 rated particulate filters are appropriate respirators to protect against ash, soot, and other nuisance particles. A particulate respirator with added activated carbon cartridges, or disposable respirators with a carbon layer built-in, can protect from odors and dust. Avoid using them in low-oxygen environments or confined spaces. For higher-risk situations - like homes with lead, asbestos, PCB, or heavy mold contamination - use a Class 100 filter, like P100, with a negative pressure half or full facepiece respirator. A Powered Air Purifying Respirator with high-efficiency filters is also a good option.
Whatever type of respiratory program you decide to use, ensure that everyone involved knows how to properly fit, use, and wear a respirator.
How do you know what PPE to use?
The gear you'll be using to clean up after a wildfire is different from the gear that first responders would use for the fire itself. However, as long as you know what hazards you'll be facing in the fire's aftermath, you'll know what gear to use and what clean-up work needs to be done. For clean-up work, you'll need to consider how severe the damage is, the age of the damaged buildings, and the kind of mediation that needs to take place.
You and your team should be prepared for these risks:
- Actively burning fires
- Exposure to hot structures or substances
- Flammable gas
- Inhalation, ingestion, or contact with vapors, dusts, fumes, etc.
- Exposure to carbon monoxide, especially around powered equipment in poorly ventilated areas
- Confined spaces where hazardous atmospheres are present
- Electrocution or electrical shock hazards
- Temperature-related stress
- Slips, trips, and falls (especially from high places)
- Engulfment, structural collapse, or other accidents
- Musculoskeletal or ergonomic injuries
- Loud environments or equipment
- Flying or falling debris
- Earplugs that will protect your ears from damaging sounds while keeping you alert to what's happening around you
Wildfire PPE: Fire Clean-Up Gear, Clothing, and Restoration Supplies
If you're gearing up for wildfire season or anticipating a clean-up effort, we have masks and filters for respiratory protection, FR clothing, and all of the PPE you need in the brands you trust for the best possible protection against wildfire safety hazards. Remember that we vet all of the products we sell and have years of industry experience in our team - there's nothing here that we wouldn't personally trust with our safety on the field.
On the Blog
Want to know more about wildfire safety? Looking for tips on how to reduce wildfire smoke exposure, prepare for wildfires amid other emergencies, and other useful information? PK Safety has a safety blog full of informative content for workers, homeowners, and professionals alike.
Brands We Carry
PK Safety only carries the brands that we would personally trust to keep us safe in the aftermath of a wildfire. We carry wildfire safety gear from popular and trusted brands like 3M, GRIT FR Workwear, Petzl, and more.
About PK Safety
For over 70 years, The Worker Safety Specialists at PK Safety have kept our customers safe and will continue working with you and your team toward greater protection. Contact our safety experts by calling 800.829.9580 or filling out an online contact form.