Ok, so this post really proves just how much of a geek I really am. Just bear with me for a bit.
This subject causes me a lot of personal grief. I know that it probably shouldn’t and that I am indeed a geek for worrying about this issue because seemingly no one else does, however this issue has plagued me for years and I need to get it off of my chest.
This is about the washing machine at the main fire station where I work. I’m at this station a lot, whether I’m working one of my three weekly scheduled paid shifts, hanging around with my wife who works there three scheduled paid shifts as well, or volunteering my time for call response, training, or work projects. So I have the opportunity to use this particular large, commercial, washing machine quite a bit.
It’s a nice machine. It handles the huge loads that we generate on a daily and nightly basis. It cleans the stuff pretty well and runs pretty quickly and quietly.
The problem is, the soap. It does not rinse the soap out of the clothes, bed sheets, blankets, turnout gear, or anything else that we put in there. The “rinse” water is always white with suds and everything comes out soapier than when we put it in there.
I am well aware that this is not a sexy problem. It’s not a big issue and castles will not fall because of it. It just drives me nuts.
When it comes to be my time to use the machine, I run two full cycles at a minimum to rinse out the machine. The third cycle usually has at least some soap in the water but I use it anyway because all of the residual soap that is left in the stuff that we constantly wash in there. The stuff is full of soap! Our sheets, our towels, our turnout gear… everything. After you run a load in there, even after a second full cycle, the water is white with suds on the final rinse phase.
For a few years, I begged, pleaded, cajoled, and bargained to get people to use less soap in the machine. I tried to get the purchasing division to get us a different type of soap that might rinse cleaner. I even went so far as to post up a few memos in the washing room and write a couple of written requests to the purchasing division and the officer above them.
Predictably, nobody cared those times and still nobody cares about the issue now. Everybody still dumps the same big glob of soap into the machine when they start it and then promptly forgets about it. Whomever comes in and removes the stuff from the washer just puts the stuff right in the dryer, still soapy as all get out, and throws another load in the washer. Then, they dump a big glob of soap in the machine and the cycle perpetuates. Honestly, it’s a losing battle for me and I know that I’m the only geek who cares out of the 100 other people on the department. Nowadays I’ve resorted to trying not to care about it so much and also by surreptitiously watering down the soap that we use. I’ve been doing that for years and nobody seems to ever have noticed (until they read this). It helps a bit, but still our stuff is soapy as heck.
Am I crazy? Probably, but consider this: This small issue is hurting my department and the way we function. Really. We spend hours per week cleaning and polishing our apparatus. To do that, we need towels. Lots of them. Now that they’re all full of soap, they don’t soak up water anymore and we have to constantly replace them with new towels that promptly get full of soap and don’t absorb water and leave our trucks streaked with laundry soap and water spots. Then, we replace the towels again and the cycle perpetuates. How much money do we spend on new towels?
Consider this also: Our guys sleep on linens that get washed every day after they’re used. These linens are full of soap and are against our guys’ skin every night. What happens when one of them develops an allergy? Occasionally, some of this linen goes for use on an ambulance… when will we get a patient with an allergy to our soap?
Consider this as well: How much does it degrade our turnout gear to be full of regular laundry soap? Sure, we bought the expensive specialized turnout gear cleaner, but it doesn’t matter because the water we’re using to wash the gear is full of the soap from everything else? Does that degrade our protection? How much are we harming our very expensive protective clothing by filling it with soap? When will the gear fail and someone get burned because of this? Will it happen? When someone gets burned will it be my fault because I didn’t try hard enough to fix an issue that I saw?
Yes, I’m a geek for caring about this issue so much. I feel like an OCD Chicken Little. However, this small, nothing issue is costing the department money overall and could get someone hurt out there on the fireground. After that, I’m sure people will wonder how this could have been prevented. I’m sure also that they’re looking for ways to cut costs now that the economy tanked and tax revenues are down.
And there sits the washing machine, quietly driving me crazy.
How many issues out there do people know about like this? Issues that are small enough so that nobody else cares but that snowball into big problems for the organizations. How many of these issues affect EMS and the fire service industry-wide. How many of them affect everything?
One day I’ll conquer my soapy demon. For now, I have to keep watering down the soap in secret… but as crazy as it seems, I feel that I’m making some small difference. You can too. Be it the way your equipment is checked in the morning, the way you package your lifesaving gear, the way you make sure that the gas tank is full, or the way you do whatever it is you do to make your service the best it can be.
Now get out there and water down your soap. You might just save a life.