By Chris Gannon, writing for GESA (Global Emergency Services Action)
To catch up on Part 1 of this article, which introduces the complexity of Emergency Services donations and outlines the various donor types and their circumstances, please follow this link: https://iffmag.mdmpublishing.com/donations-an-essential-guide-part-1-2/.
‘Retired’ Equipment – and how we can we make the most of it
In the Global North, fire departments are constantly pressed to streamline and cut costs, but some departments also have the resources to take still-valuable equipment out of service as they upgrade, enabling them to give this equipment away as an act of kindness.
Most Global North departments have scheduled equipment testing programmes where every item is periodically checked against set standards to ensure it is operationally safe, functional and meets manufacturer and country standards. Inspections are undertaken by service specialists, manufacturer’s agents, insurance companies or external verifiers.
The two most common types of donated equipment are Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). Why? Because they are critical life-safety items and the most carefully regulated by codes – like those of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
NFPA 1851 requires that PPE be retired 10 years after the manufacture date – period. This includes helmets, gloves, coats, pants, hoods and boots – which is a standard for gear, even if the equipment has never been used and was simply left in storage/reserve. NFPA 1852 stipulates that composite SCBA cylinders have a maximum operational life of 15 years, regardless of condition or hydrostatic performance.
I have debated this subject many times with Fire Chiefs who stubbornly insist that NFPA codes are too restrictive but I don’t agree. Would you wear the same clothes to work for 10 years? Of course not, if you had other options given that this clothing has been exposed to all kinds of temperatures, contaminants and abuse. Even lightly used gear over 5–7 years old may be behind current safety standards for advanced cities. Think about how much better safety standards are on new cars versus cars manufactured 15 years ago!
And therein lies an opportunity – these standards are not just a guide; experts publish them in the NFPA after exhaustive research, scientific study and deliberation. The requirements help well-resourced services know when to retire items that could be obsolete or not well maintained. For departments I know it can feel frustrating to replace things that appear to be usable simply because law/policy dictates. But the law is the law. Once the gear’s life expires under law, then what? What should departments do with this mountain of gear that may still have life-saving capabilities but is now legally defined as obsolete?
The ‘Donation Zone’
Disposing of used equipment has historically been an expensive and complicated problem for donating departments and manufacturers. New environmental requirements in many Global North countries are putting even more focus on finding a ‘second life’ for donatable gear. Meanwhile, some retired assets may be used for non-live fire training or sold to non-firefighting users… much of it could be matched with departments in need.
Having a charity come to collect storerooms of ‘obsolete’ gear for shipment overseas may feel like an attractive option for Global North departments. And Global South firefighters are generally incredibly grateful to receive almost any international donation. But these same recipients are often surprised –even angry – to learn that much of this equipment is classified as obsolete in the donor country. They are dismayed to find that much donated is too damaged to be helpful (and thus now a disposal problem for the recipient department). The key lies in making sure every item donated is truly usable or ‘fit for purpose’.
We have learned from experience that there is frequently a time window – what I like to call the ‘Donation Zone’ – where retired, legally obsolete equipment from the Global North would safely, effectively fit the needs of departments that need equipment. It’s time to take better advantage of that window, getting that gear identified, inspected and out to departments in need. We can do it – without compromising standards or safety – but to do it at scale, we need a systematic approach like the one GESA is developing, focused on making all parts of the donations process faster, smarter and more sustainable, to support more firefighters around the world.
Please keep an eye out for Part 3 of this article next month, where I will discuss how donation of equipment that is not fit for purpose encourages uninformed risk-taking, as well as how government involvement and logistical challenges impact long-term success.
Chris Gannon has spent 29 years in the industry as a national Fire Chief, government advisor, CEO of Gannon Emergency Solutions, and has built a reputation as a pioneer in reviewing and improving Emergency Services around the world. For more information, please visit www.gannonemergency.com or www.gannonemergencyusa.com.
GESA (Global Emergency Services Action)
GESA is an international non-profit founded in 2020 by leader companies in the Emergency Services sector. GESA is a coalition of companies, consultants and practitioners working together to change the future of the global Emergency Services marketplace. We are currently developing our flagship platform – the GESA Equipment Exchange – a web-based tool that will connect Global South departments with manufacturers, consultants, trainers and suppliers to tie donations to a sustainable, longer-term pipeline of sales and service. For more information, membership inquiries, and more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org