Fire Departments: Cutting Costs as Cleanly as Possible

In our focus on the fire department market in recent years, we have come to find some surprising patterns in the way that fire departments procure their facility care products.  When we consult schools, healthcare, and many other institutional facilities we find that they generally tend to purchase institutional-grade products in an efficient manner.  However, our recent focus on fire and rescue facilities has found that these often-24-hour manned facilities buy their cleaning and maintenance products the same way traditional consumers do for their households.  Ready-to-use retail quality products are extremely prevalent in fire departments.  While these products do get the job done at home for weekly housecleaning, they aren’t always up to snuff for the heavy cleaning that firehouses undergo on a daily basis.  Beyond that, departments that use these products don’t take advantage of the significant cost savings available to them by implementing an institutional grade cleaning and maintenance program.

When you look at retail products used by fire departments, you find a variety including ready-to-use products and bulk concentrates designed to be mixed with water at a pre-determined dilution.  The bulk options offer significant cost savings when mixed at the recommended dilutions… and therein lies the problem.  When you have dozens of firefighters across several shifts, it is hard to achieve any sort of consistency when mixing bulk products.  We as humans are wired with the understanding that more is better and that assumption certainly carries over to mixing bulk cleaning products.  The problem is that bulk concentrates are designed to be mixed at a certain ratio and rarely deliver improved performance above a certain dilution rate.  So over-mixing does not deliver the desired extra punch of performance, but it does completely negate the cost savings possible by using a bulk product.

No application provides a better example of wasteful overuse of product than the washing machines at fire departments.  Many firehouses have a large commercial washer-extractor used for turnout gear and then one or more residential washers used for uniforms, bed sheets, towels, rags, mops, and other general laundry.  In practice, the residential washers are used several times a day every day and the washer-extractor is used on rare occasions.  The irony is that, while most stations are equipped with a chemical feed system on their washer-extractor, firefighters are often pouring name-brand retail detergent into the residential-style washers by hand.  Too often, the end result is a staggering amount of detergent being used due to overfeeding. 

With budgets being squeezed harder than they ever have been, we spend a lot of time advising municipal departments on ways to control and reduce costs.  When it comes to fire departments, our primary advice is to find ways to control product usage.  Our experience with implementing controlled-feed systems on residential washers has found that the volume of detergent used in doing laundry is reduced by 40-60% or more.  Best of all, we rarely get complaints that clothes or linens are not getting clean.  Less product, lowered costs, same performance.  Similarly, the cost reductions carry over to vehicle wash, floor mopping and other general cleaning products when adopting a cleaning program that utilizes controlled dilution equipment.  A well-designed, managed program can deliver the cost savings, maintain the quality of results, and even streamline processes to improve operations. 

Fire departments are institutions and should purchase and operate as such.  Cost savings opportunities in the facility maintenance area free up much-needed funds in other areas more critical to day-to-day operations: apparatus, equipment, tools, uniforms, training.  A good chemical supplier sees its fire department customers as partners and can help provide many opportunities for controlling costs, streamlining operations and improving overall cleanliness and sanitation.