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Distributor Blog | Selecting A Washer for Your Fire Department

Scott Vlahos is president of Advantage Equipment Inc., a full-service laundry solutions provider serving Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Over the course 21 years, Advantage Equipment has sold and installed turnout gear washers at more than 600 fire departments. In this Q and A, Vlahos provides expert advice on how to select the right washer for cleaning turnout gear according to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1851 recommendations.


Q: When selecting a washer for a fire department, what features and capabilities are a must?

A: There are a number of capabilities that are important, but programmability, a soft-mount design and ease of use top the list.


Q: Why is programmability important? 

A: It’s important to understand that a fire department washer needs to properly clean turnout gear according to NFPA 1851 guidelines. These guidelines ensure gear is properly cleaned to remove the dangerous chemicals and substances that adhere to gear during a fire. They also ensure gear is cleaned without damaging or degrading it during the wash process.

Washer-extractors at a fire department require specifically designed wash programs that clean the gear without over-milling the gear and causing excessive wear to the fabric and reflective trim material. Programming the washer to NFPA standards is key to keeping gear clean and maximizing bunker gear life. We can control wash speed, use partial or full rotation, extract spin speed and water temperature to provide an NFPA-approved cleaning environment. With the Continental Inteli and Genius washer controls, we can customize programs and ensure each cycle is getting the correct amount of chemicals – keeping gear cleaning results consistent. By creating custom programs, cycle selection is based on soil or contamination level. Easy to follow guides ensure the gear is properly prepared for the wash process.

Operators just separate the liners and shells of the gear, load the machine with either liners or shells, close the washer door, enter the correct program number and press start.


Q: You mention a soft-mount washer design is preferable. What is this and why is it important?

A: There are two types of washers, hard mount and soft mount. Hard-mount washers must be bolted to a reinforced concrete foundation, whereas soft-mount washers do not. Soft-mount washers are the first choice for fire service. The built-in suspension allows the machine to be installed economically on virtually any surface, even heated thermal floors. Because they are not bolted down, our soft-mount washers allow for easy relocation as station needs change, as well. Longevity in our soft-mount washers is legendary. The other nice thing about soft-mount washers is that because of their built-in suspension, they can run less than a full load. That’s good because we have stations that size a machine for an entire crew’s bunker gear. Oftentimes, however, they only use it for a single item or set of gear. By comparison, hard-mount washers need to run full loads to balance the inertia during extract. Bunker gear is rarely run in full loads. So partial loads are detrimental to the bearing set and installation on hard-mount extractors. Hard-mount washers just won’t last in a fire department setting.


Q: How do we know what size washer is best for our fire station? 

A: The good news is there are distributors like me across the country to figure that out for you! Typically, we’ll schedule a free site visit to gather information. There are many variables to determining the right size washer, including available space, utility hookups (water, electricity and drain size), whether the department operates multiple shifts, or whether it has spare sets of gear for each firefighter.  Crew size and the number of sets of gear processed at a time are also considered. We typically allow 10 pounds of washer capacity for every set of bunker gear.


Q: If my fire department needs a washer, who should I reach out to? 

A: Contact a qualified Girbau North America (GNA) distributor. GNA distributors sell and service Continental washers and dryers that are ideal for fire departments. They will provide recommendations, a quote, installation, training and service after the sale. Find a distributor near you.

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