Once a decision to launder turnout gear has been made, we have found that the type of washer to be used and the location of that machine matters. For example, home-style top load washers with center agitators can be hard on the fabrics and seams that make up firefighter turnout gear. Laundering soiled turnout gear in locations where cross contamination with other linens and surfaces is likely must be avoided. Whole editorials have been dedicated to explaining the details with turnout gear safe spin speeds in the wash cycle. Specifically noting that very high (above 100 G-Force) final spin cycles, also known as extraction, can cause irreparable damage to moisture liners. Some now know to even address what soaps are used in laundering turnout gear. Falling back always to the gear manufacturer recommendations first, but then to avoid soaps with unknown pH levels and additives like perfumes and oxidizers that can degrade turnout gear materials.
Together with the apparently dangerous need to wash turnout gear are the alarming stories of how firefighters themselves received sudden steam burns while in their protective gear. These burns happen when turnout gear is put into use while not completely dry. This could be from being washed or from being damp by perspiration on a recent previous usage. Therefore, specialized turnout gear drying cabinets continue to build in popularity as an alternative to air drying or tumble drying. Though not contrary to NFPA recommendations, tumble drying turnout gear is an inferior option because of additional wear and tear on the garments and the inability to use low enough heat settings in a machine designed to dry typical laundry as quickly as possible. An additional fire hazard from using gas heated tumblers together with the large amperage draw requirements of electric tumblers make low heat electric-only drying cabinets a superior option when quickly dried and fresher smelling turnout gear is desired.
If you are considering the purchase of new commercial laundry equipment, replacing old equipment or are designing a new fire station, there are a number of details to be looked at on a site visit/evaluation by a reputable distributor. Though it is always a good idea to have an equipment representative help you as your project progresses, the following are some of the details that may help you consider optional installation locations in your station or to be more knowledgeable when a representative arrives.
What size equipment is needed? The answer to this question is often answered by not only need but also by the available space in the building and financial budget. Washers come in sizes referred to in pounds of capacity, which also relates to the size of the washtub. A top load washer like you find in a home is about 10 pounds capacity. A small front load washer is about 20 pounds of capacity. We encourage purchasers of washers that are to be used in a station house to order at least a 30 pound capacity washer and in our line of equipment a 40 pound capacity washer is often preferred because of its larger door and tub which are better suited to washing, loading and unloading the stiffer and bulkier turnout gear. Large stations will sometimes seek bigger washers like 60 or 80 pound capacity machines. A more expensive “soft mount” washer that uses shocks and springs to dampen forces exerted on the floor is not necessary unless the washer is to be installed on a suspended floor like a crawl space or other non-ground level floors. Soft mount washers have very high extract speeds, as much as four times the turnout gear “safe speed,” and must be reprogrammed if installed into a fire station.
Aside from budget limitations, which need little explanation, space can be a limiting factor for washer size and is always a part of planning in a station house. Equipment foot print dimensions can be found online or with a call to your local distributor and range from the size of a top load washer upward to approximately three by four feet. What people don’t always know about the commercial front load washer is that they bolt down to the floor and are therefore somewhat permanent. They cannot be easily dragged out away from a wall to service them like a home type machine. The washer may only be 40 inches deep but will need an additional 18 to 24 inches behind the unit for utility connection hookup and maintenance. Station houses are in a way frequently easier installations for us because washers are often installed in the bay area of the building where there is plenty of room.
Other details associated with preliminary installation location planning include electrical connections. Commercial laundry equipment requires a circuit breaker for each piece of equipment. Having your washer on a shared cut off is neither safe nor compatible with manufacture installation instructions and can void the warranty. Most currently manufactured commercial washers in the sizes that station houses use operate on just a 15 amp circuit breaker in either single or three phase power making an electrical supply connection the lesser concern of new washer installations.
For incoming water, commercial washers need free flowing hot and cold water supplies (20-80 psi) and the same three-quarter inch garden hose size water valve connection as a home type machine. You’ll only have trouble if water pressure is very low.
Commercial washer extractors drain differently than a home machine and sometimes require more planning in places not designed for their installation. This is because the larger machines drain using gravity rather than a pump. Therefore, for installation of a commercial front load washer, a drain line of three inches in diameter is required below a 12 inch height from the floor when either a steel or concrete base is used. Sometimes, existing drain lines in walls can be accessed easily or floor drains can be used as long as water flows out quickly. If this sounds confusing or your situation is particularly tricky, your local equipment dealer can help you figure it out.
Front load washers are often mounted on top of a base, either concrete or steel. This elevates the washer for a higher available drain height connection (about 12 inches as mentioned above), a better installation and easier usage because of a higher, easier to access door opening. Factory made steel bases eliminate the need to pour an elevated concrete slab that may end up being in the wrong place or of the wrong size. If an elevated concrete slab is used, it must be tied into the rest of the floor and of high pressure (4000 psi) concrete. We recommend contacting an equipment representative prior to pouring an elevated concrete slab or modifying the existing floor.
As mentioned above, a gas heated drying tumbler runs too hot for moisture liners and could ignite left over residual flammable oils and other materials on the outer shell. Laundromats sometimes have dryer fires for the same reason when oily or greasy towels from the nearby restaurant are left unattended in a tumbler. This becomes a topic for installation planning because the alternative, electrically heated drying tumblers, draw large amperage and require large wire and large circuit breakers for operation; this can be as much as 150 amps for an average sized unit depending on the available voltage. However, drying cabinets designed to dry turnout gear at low heat levels and without the additional mechanical wear and tear on the gear require maybe half the amperage of the same average sized drying tumbler. Be sure to have an electrician or other experienced person check your stations electrical panels for available capacity when considering commercial laundry equipment, especially if a commercial sized dryer is needed.
Airflow is another component of laundry drying equipment installation and is especially important with newer models as our industry strives for more efficiency. Both tumblers and cabinets require fresh intake air to move through drying laundry and to complete combustion where gas heat is used. If the equipment is placed in your truck bay, you are probably OK where intake air is concerned. But where dryers are installed in a small closed off room, it is important to vent fresh air into that room either by duct or a louvered vent to the outside. One square foot of uninterrupted open area or more is often specified for each drying tumbler. Though electrically heated drying cabinets move less air and are not using oxygen for combustion, available intake air will not only allow the equipment to function and dry your turnout gear faster but will reduce maintenance in the future. And whether with an intake air vent or an exhaust duct, shorter runs and fewer turns are better. Very long exhaust ducts with many twists and turns can cause fires and machine malfunction. So, placing drying equipment closer to exterior walls whenever possible is optimal. Six, eight and even 10-inch exhaust ducts are common on commercial drying equipment. Your local equipment representative will be able to help more with model specifications.
As mentioned, the above information pertaining to equipment installation isn’t supposed to replace the customer service you receive from your local representative but to help with preliminary planning and to remove some of the guesswork of thinking about commercial laundry equipment. In fact, your equipment representative can likely provide other services you may not know about. Distributor representatives can assist with writing grant applications for station house laundry equipment. Those in the business talk about these things every day and might have quick access to industry knowledge and terminology that you need to answer a question on a grant application. Alternatively, most manufacturers have financing solutions themselves if monthly payments are a more convenient way of procurement. Your new station or equipment funding solution may be months away but it is a good idea to make contact early in the process for answers to your questions.
John Gary is a representative for T&L Equipment Sales Company, Inc., a distributor and parts and service provider of commercial laundry equipment. Gary has nearly 10 years experience working as a consultant and sales person with fire stations, dry cleaners, hotels, laundromats and other facilities where commercial laundry and dry cleaning equipment and related services are needed. John regularly helps clients and customers with design layouts, sizing and financing of equipment. He can be reached through T&L Equipment at 800-423-7937.