How Long Is Bunker Gear Good For?

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Bunker gear serves as modern-day armor for firefighters. As a critical line of defense against the hazardous environment in which firefighters perform their duties, adequately maintained bunker gear is essential for safety and protection. Keeping bunker gear clean and up to NFPA 1851 standards can prevent dangers like exposure to chemicals, toxins, combustibles and more.

You can avoid unnecessary safety risks by regularly testing your bunker gear and assessing whether it needs repairs or replacement. Knowing basic bunker gear maintenance protocol like how to care for and store bunker gear and how often to get it tested can help keep you safe when fending off fires. Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about keeping your bunker gear safe and yourself healthy.

How Long Does Bunker Gear Last?

Does bunker gear expire? NFPA 1851 states that firefighters can safely use their protective ensemble and its elements for up to 10 years. Note that the date used to determine bunker gear's longevity is its manufacture date, not the date the gear started service. At 10 years past this date, the bunker gear expires and should get retired.

While 10 years is the maximum that a piece of bunker gear can last, some firefighters will need to replace their protective equipment sooner, depending on its condition. Fire departments should regularly assess their bunker gear and determine whether the components need repairs or replacement. For guidance in this process, NFPA 1851 lists the retirement criteria for protective ensembles.

According to NFPA 1851 standards, firefighters should take the following factors into account when deciding whether to retire bunker gear:


  • The item's overall condition
  • Deterioration of specific materials or components
  • The possibility of adequately removing hazardous materials and other contaminants
  • The age of structural or proximity ensemble or its components
  • Any excessive soil buildup with the potential to impact the bunker gear's performance

Bunker Gear Maintenance and Care

With the technology used today in bunker gear, it can consistently protect you for years if you take good care of it. Dirty bunker gear is not the sign of a seasoned veteran — it is the sign of a firefighter who may be in danger. Because the byproducts of combustion can catch fire, it is imperative to clean soiled bunker gear to keep the wearer safe.

Regularly laundering your bunker gear will not cause any loss in flame resistance. Washing your gear is crucial to keeping it free of contaminants. However, routinely rinsing your bunker gear is not enough. NFPA 1851 recommends routine bunker gear cleaning by the wearer, plus advanced mechanical cleaning at least once a year to remove dirt, grime and other damages.

To ensure you are appropriately caring for your bunker gear, partner with a professional protective equipment cleaning service like Bunker Gear Specialists (BGS). At BGS, we've been cleaning and testing bunker gear for industrial and municipal fire safety clients since 1999.

While we have the expertise to service a wide range of bunker gear components, we specialize in cleaning sets of coats, pants, helmets, hoods, boots and gloves. Though we usually clean bunker gear in sets, we also clean packages of specific items. Typically, our cleaning services take two to three business days, but heavy-duty cleaning may take up to a week to complete.

Over the years, BGS has developed and perfected our wet-wash bunker gear cleaning protocol, a fully NFPA 1851-compliant process. We take our clients' damaged or dirty bunker gear, wet-wash the gear per NFPA 1851 standards, air-dry it and complete minor repairs whenever necessary.

If you plan on getting your bunker gear professionally cleaned by BGS, these are the three easy steps you can expect:


  1. BGS receives your bunker gear items — you can either drop the gear off at our facility or we can come to pick it up from you.
  2. BGS uses industrial extractors to wet-wash your pieces of bunker gear — this process may take more time for heavily soiled bunker gear.
  3. BGS allows your bunker gear to air-dry before returning it to you in labeled protective plastic bags.


Bunker Gear Storage Regulations

Many people believe the myth that where you store your bunker gear is far more essential than how you store it. The truth is that both are equally crucial factors. While storing pieces of gear in a wet or moist environment can lead to mold and mildew growth, storing soiled gear causes the impurities to become further embedded into the fabric's fibers. 

In other words, tucking soiled gear into storage without cleaning it means you are also storing all the contaminants currently present on the gear. To prevent your bunker gear from becoming even more damaged as it sits in storage, NFPA 1851 clearly outlines the correct way to store protective firefighting gear.

In summary, the storage tips proposed by NFPA 1851 are as follows:


  • Ensembles should always be clean and dry before you place it in storage.
  • Hang ensembles up to prevent creases and folds.
  • Store your bunker gear in a clean, dry and well-ventilated space.
  • Store your gear away from any UV-producing lights and direct sunlight.
  • Do not store your gear in extremely cold or hot temperatures.
  • Do not store your gear in a vehicle's trunk unless you are protecting it with a gear bag or other covering.
  • Do not store your gear in an airtight container unless it is new and unused.
  • Do not store your gear in a personal locker or your living quarters.
  • Ensure your gear is not in contact with any oils, solvents, acids, alkalis or other contaminants.


Bunker Gear Inspection

Along with regular maintenance, NFPA 1851 states that bunker gear should be subject to an annual inspection for safety purposes. However, it is best to inspect your bunker gear more frequently than that, especially after each fire. For added safety, NFPA 1851 suggests routine and advanced inspection for the proper and effective functioning of protective gear upon issue and after each use.

Checking the status of your bunker gear after each fire will enable you to catch any damage caused by specific chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid. Untreated pieces of protective equipment can become moldy and dirty. If you don't address damage from chemicals and other sources immediately, you'll need to replace the affected gear entirely, which can get expensive. 

Enlisting a professional testing service to inspect your bunker gear can help you avoid unnecessary replacement expenses. Using the bunker gear testing and care services from BGS will help you ensure that your firefighting equipment is always properly maintained and in ready-to-use condition. The Level A Suit testing services and turnout gear services we provide include pressure testing and rigorous visual evaluations.

At BGS, we offer our bunker gear testing services for clients within any sector — book our services for your next annual or biannual training session.

Purchase New Bunker Gear From BGS

Sometimes, damaged bunker gear is beyond repair. When you need to replace your entire ensemble or one of its components, get your gear from Bunker Gear Specialists. At BGS, we provide made-to-order fire gear to suit our clients' specific needs. Our custom industrial safety gear options allow you to mix and match outer shells, moisture barriers and thermal liners.

To get durable protective equipment you can rely on, shop the top-quality bunker gear brands available from BGS.


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