Why firefighters should decon with towelettes

By Robert Avsec

Firefighters are especially vulnerable to cancer-causing contamination around the face and neck; there are several ways firefighters can clean that area on scene.

One of the most current and relevant topics in firefighter safety today is reducing the risk of developing cancer from repeated exposures to toxic substances and carcinogens during firefighting operations.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes soot as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it is categorized as one of the worst carcinogens that firefighters can be exposed to, particularly during interior structural firefighting.

The parts of a firefighter’s body that are covered by their protective hood is the easiest place for toxic substances and carcinogens to meet the skin. That’s because many hoods lack any type of barrier characteristics to keep out the superfine particles, soot, that absorb a variety of hazardous chemicals including carcinogens.

In the long term, there are several fire service groups, like NFPA, and firefighting protective hood manufacturers working to develop a hood that can protect firefighters from these skin exposures. In the short term, prompt removal of these skin contaminants, primarily soot, is the best course of action to minimize a firefighter’s exposure.

Fire service groups, like the International Association of Fire Chiefs and International Association of Fire Fighters, along with firefighter cancer advocacy groups, such as the International Firefighter Cancer Foundation and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network all recommend the prompt cleansing of the head, face and neck as soon as a firefighter’s protective ensemble is removed.

This recommendation has created a relative cottage industry of companies rushing to meet this newfound market.


Human skin can absorb up to 68 percent of ingredients put on it; the absorption rate for underarms and genitalia is closer to 100 percent.

When evaluating and selecting wipes or towelettes for use in firefighter rehab and decontamination, be on the lookout for harmful ingredients, such as harsh and toxic chemicals, colors and fragrances. These can also be absorbed through the skin making their way into other body organs, as well as the circulatory and lymphatic systems.

It’s also important to note that a product’s ingredients are listed in order of quantity. Some ingredients, while safe on their own, can become toxic when mixed with other ingredients. For example, sodium benzoate combined with vitamin E (tocopheryl acetate) causes benzene to be formed. Benzene is a known carcinogen.

You should also be cautious of using antibacterial wipes as the FDA is studying the safety and efficacy of hand sanitizers and wipes that use alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol), isopropyl alcohol and benzalkonium chloride.

One group that’s already doing that research is the Environmental Working Group. EWG’s Skin Deep database offers practical solutions to protect against everyday exposures to chemicals. EWG evaluates skin wipes and towelettes as “life elements” and body wash/cleansers.

The core of Skin Deep is an electronic product database that contains ingredients in 64,708 products. EWG obtained detailed information on these products from online retailers, manufacturers, product packaging and, to a lesser extent, through other methods described below.

In most cases, the information EWG obtains includes a brand name, product name, directions for use, warnings, ingredients, package/advertising text and indications (cosmeceuticals).


Rescue Wipes are designed specifically for first responders, by first responders, and provide an effective way to minimize the risk of cancer and other toxins from absorbing into the skin.

Our dedication to cancer prevention and safety begins with using only premium ingredients to help remove soot, smoke, and harmful toxins from the skin.

We want to prevent first responders from absorbing toxic carcinogens while in the line of duty that eventually can result in cancer or disease.


Our dedication to cancer prevention and safety begins with using only premium ingredients to help remove soot, smoke, and harmful toxins from the skin. Rescue Wipes do not contain Alcohol, MI, Parabens, Latex, Anti-Bacterial properties, or any “Kill” formula. Rescue Wipes contain several ingredients that makeup a healthy, all-purpose body wipe. Rescue Wipes are safer than most body wipe products on the market and the combination of premium ingredients mixed with high end and all natural materials derive a healthy and effective body wipe.

PURIFIED AND DE-IONIZED WATER (AQUA) – This is simply one of the purest forms of water that rids of all ions such as sodium, calcium, iron, chloride, copper and bromide. It is used as solvent and as a spreading agent.

GLYCERIN – A colorless and odorless liquid used when making soap. The substance is used in sweeteners, cosmetics and lubricants. Glycerin is very common in skin care products.
GREEN TEA EXTRACT – An herbal derivative from the natural green tea leave, containing antioxidants such as green tea catechins (GTC) and is used as an alternative to medicine.  Green Tea Extract is primarily known for its health benefits including anti-aging properties and inhibits anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
PHENOXYETHANOL – A preservative used in cosmetics and personal care products, which is made up of fragrance ingredients and preservatives.
COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE – A synthetic surfactant derived from coconut oil, which is very popular in personal care products.
DIDECYDIMONIUM CHLORIDE – Used as an antistatic and conditioning agent; a well known surfactant and component in conditioning products.
LAURALKONIUM CHLORIDE – Acts as an antistatic agent and cosmetic preservative.

POLYSORBATE 20 – Used as a surfactant and emulsifier predominantly used in cleaners and personal care products.

ALOE VERA EXTRACT – Acts as a traditional medicine and serves a multipurpose skin treatment.

In order to develop a safe and proper wipe, we began with recognizing what substances could not interact with the activities and lifestyles of first responders.

Rescue Wipes do not contain Alcohol, as Alcohol is highly flammable and the wipes will be exposed to fires.

Rescue Wipes do not include Methylisothaisolnone (MI). Methylisothaisolnone is common in many cleansing products such as moisturizer, shampoos and soaps, but have been known to cause a number of allergic reactions. If first responders are expected to use Rescue Wipes continuously, they must be hypoallergenic and rid of all substances that cause allergic reactions.

Rescue Wipes also do not contain Paraben. Although Parabens are one of the most commonly used preservatives in personal care products, the chemical has been found and linked to many cases of breast cancer. Doctors state that the chemical was easily identifiable in breast cancer tumors. They believe this chemical seeps through the skin and latches on to particular organs, which eventually lead to cancer.

Rescue Wipes do not contain Latex in the product. Latex has been linked to sever allergic reactions and is known for being one of the biggest skin irritants.

Rescue Wipes do not contain any anti-bacterial properties or ‘kill formulas” as there is high risk of potential issues after exposure over an extended period of time.

Rescue Wipes are safe and very well preserved. Individual packs are insulated with aluminum to allow for the wipes to remain fresh and consistent in order to operate efficiently over longer periods of time in extreme environments.

Rescue Wipes are also embedded with hydroentangled spunlace, which contains natural fibers, creating a smoother and softer material, while remaining lint free and helps clean the skin more efficiently.

To learn more about Rescue Wipes or to purchase, click the logo below!

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Posted in Fire Safety, Fire Service, Firefighter Health, Firefighting.