Firehouse® Magazine invited a representative sampling of personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers to join our latest roundtable discussion centering on firefighter safety issues. We thank the companies participating in this roundtable and invite other manufacturers to join in future discussions.
Q: Is there any consideration to adding other types of drag-rescue devices to the turnout coat, aside from the device behind the firefighter's neck?
MORDECAI: The current generation of drag-rescue devices in turnout jackets addresses the concerns expressed by firefighters about the difficulty of removing a downed firefighter. Rather than add additional devices to the turnout gear (with associated issues of training, less than complete availability, and cost), it might have more value to utilize Class 2 harnesses with current drag-rescue devices and invest more in training.
WYMAN: We already offer a system called the "Five Man Carry DRD." The patented system includes straps in the knees and the shoulders, as well as in the traditional place in the back of the neck. The idea behind the system was to make it easy for a rapid intervention team to quickly evacuate a downed firefighter over difficult terrain. We also offer the patented "Metro DRD," which includes a connection across the firefighter's chest which, when deployed, hugs the chest like a bear hug, ensuring the coat doesn't come off during a rescue.
MONDOUX: The drag-rescue device behind the firefighter's lower neck can still be considered in the fire service as a relatively new option on turnout coats. We feel that it has been relatively well accepted by the firefighters and being used. Other types of drag-rescue devices to turnout coats may still be a little premature at this time, as we are still gathering information from training instructors and actual rescues on the functionality of this drag-rescue device in the turnout coat.
LEHTONEN: LION is continually reviewing concepts and ideas to enhance firefighter safety and different options for the drag-rescue device or other means of extricating an incapacitated firefighter from a dangerous situation are of particular interest. There remain challenges to provide a functional, simple and accessible device integrated into turnout coats.
HANSEN and KRUSE: We don't have any new designs pending right now for specific drag-rescue devices. However, we are working on solutions for integrated harness systems.
Q: Will future PPE be constructed to withstand higher heat and provide further protection in a fire?
UNDERWOOD: As a manufacturer of fabrics for firefighting PPE, we are always evaluating new fibers and fiber blends that can provide elevated levels of flame protection. This is a given, but there may also be a increasing interest in materials and material systems that help to reduce the heat stress firefighters face on a regular basis, driving lighter weight materials and turnout composites. All departments need to run an honest risk assessment and make gear determinations based on that risk assessment.
NICHOLAS: Possibly. The NFPA 1971 technical committee has considered requiring additional testing (e.g., mannequin test, stored-energy test) of completed garments, which may lead to improvements in design and protection. There may also be technological improvements in materials.
WYMAN: Ultimately, that is the goal of any new design in material and patterning. The question is should we focus on protecting firefighters from greater heat exposures or should we protect them from heat stress? Heart failure is the greatest threat members of the fire service face and some believe the gear plays a role in this. Ultimately, manufacturers should continue to work toward providing the highest level of protection possible and the decision of what level is needed by a department should be made by the departments themselves. Manufacturers know how to make gear, but no one knows the individual circumstances and needs of a department better than the members of that department.
MORDECAI: In the past decade, turnout gear has become more and more protective, but firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) have remained basically unchanged. Somewhat counter intuitively, more protective gear has allowed firefighters to go in deeper and stay in longer. Roughly half of all LODDs are a result of cardiac events and part of the unique risk factors associated with firefighting is strenuous activity using protective gear that reduces the body's ability to cool itself. So, future PPE needs to reduce stress and monitor the physiology of the firefighter.
LEHTONEN: Improving protection doesn't always mean withstanding higher heat levels; it could come in the form of providing protection against lower levels of heat for longer durations. Many of the high-heat-resistant technologies are currently in use today. When utilizing materials with high-heat characteristics, durability and strength of those materials also must be taken into consideration to ensure that the proper level of protection for the many threats and risks that firefighters encounter in addition to the threat of heat.
HANSEN and KRUSE: The heat-insulating textiles in modern fire suits protect the skin so well against radiant heat that it is becoming a challenge for firefighters to detect critical temperatures before they result in injury. Data shows that heart attack due to heat stress is the leading cause of death among firefighters in action and that the difference between pain and a second-degree burn is a mere 12°C increase in skin temperature. So increasing TPP (thermal protective performance) values can create a "false sense of security" because in the heat of battling a blaze, firefighters wearing highly insulated turnout gear may be unable to detect soaring temperatures before it's too late. To monitor critical temperatures, VIKING has introduced the first NFPA Turnout Gear with built-in Thermal Sensor Technology (TST).
We focus on a balance between protection, comfort and breathability and strive to reduce the risks of heat stress and burn injuries by providing fire suits at the lowest possible weight in relation to protection. Integrating thermal sensor technology with the jacket gives the added advantage of indicating critical heat levels before it's too late.
Temperature sensors attached to two LED displays on the sleeve and shoulder indicate critical temperatures — both inside and outside the garment — to firefighters and their team. The display on the upper left shoulder is visible to other firefighters on the team and indicates potentially critical situations. The display on the lower sleeve indicates dangerous heat levels both inside and outside the fire suit. A test button feature is integrated into the display and a signal blinks once a minute during operation. A small box in the inner liner of the coat contains a battery and a control chip that calculates the temperature and activates the LED displays. Sensors are covered in flexible waterproof plastic to protect against fluids.
When the outer temperatures reach about 250°C, the outer circle on the display begins to flash slowly. At 350°C, the display light flashes rapidly. And when the temperature inside the garment reaches about 50°C, the long line on the display begins to flash slowly, and at 65°C, the display light flashes rapidly because when the inside of the coat near the skin reaches 79°C, the situation is critical.
The microelectronics are durable and can withstand at least 25 wash cycles. The only thing you have to remove is the computer/battery from a pocket in the liner. No maintenance is required — only the battery needs to be changed.
We designed the original lightweight and breathable fire suits. We were the first to introduce Raglan sleeves to U.S. firefighters. And now we are the first to integrate thermal sensor technology directly into lightweight and flexible fire suits.
MONDOUX: As a garment manufacturer, one of INNOTEX's tasks is to always look at and keep abreast of all new fire-retardant materials that are available in the current marketplace and in development for the future. Through design and innovation, we find ways of utilizing them so as to maximize protection against heat and flame, but keeping in mind the need for lightweight, breathability and mobility features in order not to hinder the firefighter's ability to do his work, but to facilitate it with safety and peace of mind.
Q: Has there been an increase in requests for a rappelling/escape device in the turnout coat or pants?
MONDOUX: We have seen a few requests, mostly from big cities, for a rappelling/escape device integrated in the turnout pants (escape harness). We are slightly concerned about an integrated harness in the pants for the following reasons: This will add extra weight to the pants and firefighters are always looking for something lighter. It may contribute to premature wear of the moisture membrane, the crucial layer for stopping chemical and blood pathogen penetration. Moisture membrane wear is already a concern. It may hinder the mobility of the lower body and comfort. INNOTEX does offer the option on pants for an external harness system. We feel that it has some advantages, such as not potentially damaging the moisture membrane layer, giving the firefighters the opportunity to decide when to utilize it upon arriving at a scene and being able to choose the type of harness a department wishes to use.
As a side note, the SCBA manufacturers have and/or are looking at adding some extra webbing, strapping to go around the thighs of lower body on the current SCBA harness to act like a rappelling/escape device. This adds very little weight, is external so it does not damage the moisture membrane and is always available as a firefighter that goes into a burning building must have on an SCBA airpack.
LEHTONEN: The interest in personal escape devices integrated into PPE has increased over the last 12–18 months. Many departments are conducting risk assessments to determine the need for the devices and what types of systems would work best in the environments they face. Interoperability of the devices with other PPE and the everyday tasks firefighters face remain a challenge and concern on how to best implement such devices. LION works closely with our end users to address these challenges and concerns and collaborate on solutions for a safer fire service.
MORDECAI: In recent years, we have seen increasing demand for internal harnesses in our turnout pants that can be worn comfortably and easily every day. The Health and Safety Committee at DC Fire & Rescue worked with us to develop an internal harness pant to meet their requirements: an internal Class 2 harness that can be turned down over their boots, pulled up and secured by just one buckle to close both pants and harness, and a descender system that was accessible below the jackets. They felt that a harness was more than just an emergency escape device but also useful everyday as a ladder belt and for firefighter rescue in conjunction with a drag-rescue device.
WYMAN: There's been a very significant increase over the past two years. Fire departments are very interested in providing the best escape systems available for their members. That's why we created the Class II Spider Harness system and the Life Grip belt. Our customers were telling us they wanted a system better than what existed in the market. So we responded with externally adjustable leg loops in our internally mounted harness system, the first of its kind in the industry. The system comes with a number of other features that were designed in partnership with fire service members and emergency egress instructors. For 2011, we will have a number of other systems available based on our current offering.
NICHOLAS: Yes. These most frequently are used with the pant, and can be internal or external. Some states, such as New York, may actually mandate their use.
HANSEN and KRUSE: Yes. We are evaluating various new options for both Quest and VIKING pants in regards to integrated and external harnesses. We do see more departments inquire about this option. However, sometimes when evaluating pros and cons — including cost, fit, weight, bulk, etc. — the harnesses may not be the best option. We try to make our gear as dynamic as possible so solutions like harnesses can be added individually and after initial purchase in case the need gets more apparent. But we are looking at various new options for harnesses that will fit our strategy of building the lightest and most comfortable gear in the market.
Q: With proper wear and cleaning, PPE is now rated for a 10-year life. Will that life span ever increase?
LONGARZO: I really cannot imagine the life span would ever increase to more than 10 years. NFPA standards change every five years, and each five-year NFPA cycle strives to increase safety and protection for the firefighter. Once you pass the five-year mark in age, gear will conceivably fail to be in compliance with the current NFPA standard. Firefighters put a lot of demands on their gear, and they must constantly inspect their gear to ensure it is providing the level of protection necessary for their own safety. A firefighter's safety should be the number-one priority while allowing them to perform their job to the best of their ability, and having gear that is old and out of NFPA compliance can seriously compromise the firefighter's safety and their ability to perform effectively.
WYMAN: NFPA standards currently mandate that bunker gear be replaced after no more than 10 years. The life span of the gear itself really depends on the amount of use it gets, so for some departments that see a lot of fires, it might not be realistic to expect 10 years of usable life for a set of gear, whereas for other departments that don't catch much fire the opposite might be true. That said, departments should be more focused on making certain that the gear they have offers members a level of protection that allows them to do their jobs safely, efficiently and effectively 100% of the time. With technological improvements in bunker gear happening at an increasing pace, the wisdom of extending the wear life of a set of gear past the 10-year point is something that each individual department will have to weigh versus the threat their members face.
MORDECAI: It is incorrect to say that the expected service life of turnout gear is 10 years. Many departments replace their turnout gear every five years and active departments may get less. The NFPA 1851 standard says that gear shall be retired not later than 10 years from the date of manufacture if it hasn't been retired earlier. Don't forget that gear that is 10 years old is also two standards old and consequently even if it still provides basic protection, it isn't likely to meet current standards. This is personal protective equipment. It's hard to imagine anything more important than making sure that your turnout gear is clean, inspected and meeting current standards.
LEHTONEN: With proper cleaning, inspection and repair the life span of PPE can be extended, just like an automobile that has been properly maintained since its purchase. However, PPE life span is variable because frequency of use varies from fire department to fire department, and exposure conditions vary from incident to incident.
Proper maintenance means you can expect PPE to remain safe for use longer than if you didn't maintain it. For example, a department that typically averaged five years' use from their PPE without regular maintenance could increase average life to seven years with proper maintenance. However, the real benefit of maintenance is that firefighters are wearing PPE that has been evaluated and deemed as remaining safe for use. The reference in NFPA 1851 (2008 edition) to 10 years is a limit and not intended to suggest average wear life. The standard says PPE should never be in service for longer than 10 years. In addition to wear and tear, advancements in technologies and changes in minimum standards requirements also render gear obsolete over a 10-year period.
NICHOLAS: Most likely not, as NFPA 1971 is revised approximately every five years, meaning the gear will be functionally obsolete after 10 years even if it is still serviceable.
UNDERWOOD: I'm not aware of anyone that recommends wearing his or her PPE for 10 years, even when properly maintained. While it may last 10 years, it does lose strength and ultimately protective capability over time. I believe most recommend gear replacement around five years and I don't see this changing anytime soon. With that said, the materials we use today are far more advanced than a decade ago, stronger and tougher and more durable, but safety must remain the first priority.
HANSEN and KRUSE: It is very individual from department to department and user to user. However, we do see gear with a longer life span without decreased thermal performance. This includes some of the gear we sell in other markets too.
Q: Boots are primarily manufactured of rubber or leather. Is any new type of material being considered for future release?
NASCIMENTO: Magnum has developed the Shield WPi, a new public order boot that incorporates "ion-mask" technology, a liquid-repellent nano-coating that is applied during production. Due to the "ion-mask" process, the Magnum Shield WPi is quite possibly the only duty boot that can be effectively decontaminated of CBRN agents. It can also be successfully cleaned of blood-borne pathogens; is waterproof, breathable and fire retardant; has a steel toe-cap and penetration resistant plate; and is tested and certified to European EN20347:2004 standard.
LEHTONEN: Boots constructed using combinations of materials continue to be developed. Use of fabric in strategic areas of the boot can make them lighter, more flexible and more comfortable to wear. Consideration to the styles of footwear worn in the military may apply to the fire service with the proper application of materials and technology. As with our other PPE products, LION is focused on research, development and innovation for the next generation of protective footwear for the fire service.
MORDECAI: Rubber and leather are no longer the natural rubber and leather products of old, but highly engineered materials. Synthetic rubbers can be formulated to optimize resistance to a wide range of environment and chemical exposures and leather is similarly treated with a broad range of polymers to provide enhanced resistance. In fact, we are part of a team headed by North Carolina State and funded by the Technical Support Working Group to develop a leather CBRN boot that can be decontaminated in the field. The leather used in these boots is nothing like the leather you are familiar with today.
WYMAN: We recently introduced the PRO-Warrington 4200 Hybrid boot that combines Vibram sheet rubber and Nomex fabric to produce the lightest structural fire boot in the industry. Our design goal when we made the Hybrid boot was to make something as comfortable as it was lightweight, so traditional rubber or leather designs weren't going to allow us to achieve our goal. The combination of materials in the Hybrid boot allowed us to create a boot even lighter than the PRO-Warrington 5006 leather boot while adding sneaker-like comfort. For future projects, we are considering a number of different materials new to structural fire boots.
Q: Considering that firefighters respond to all types of emergency calls — structural and wildland fires, extrications, rescues and EMS — is there eye protection for all these disciplines?
MERCURIO: Yes. Eye injuries can be one of the most devastating injuries to have happen to a firefighter. Eyes do not rehab like a sprain or broken bone and they are a direct avenue for infectious diseases. Eye injuries for the most part can be permanent. It is extremely important to wear the appropriate eye protection for the given incident. But luckily, with the advances in material, research and development, and engineering, in addition to the safety requirements the fire service has in place through NFPA, today's eye protection has come a long way and is the best it has ever been.
While a faceshield or flip-down shield offer general or partial face protection, they do not offer specific eye protection. Flying debris, embers and dust can still get past these shields and damage your eyes. To protect your eyes, a firefighter's PPE should include goggles and/or safety glasses for primary eye protection. Faceshields and flip-down shields are not primary eye protection per NFPA. Even if a faceshield or flip down is used, goggles or glasses should be worn in addition to these shields.
Today's goggles and safety glasses allow a firefighter to respond to all types of emergencies knowing their eyesight is protected. From structural and wildland goggles that must meet specific heat and impact requirements to safety glasses that must meet the stringent requirements of ANSI Z87.1, there is eye protection available to cover any incident or scenario firefighters might find themselves involved in.
WYMAN: Honeywell eye protection brands Uvex and North offer a wide variety of eye and face protection for any situation a first responder might be in. We offer everything from reading enhancement and prescription lenses to lenses for different purposes and light levels. First responders have a choice of ballistic lenses and ones of various colors. We also offer eye protection with anti-scratch, anti-static and UV protection, as well as ones with chemical resistant flexible frames.
Q: Are there any new helmet designs being formulated and/or tested for future use?
LEHTONEN: Helmets must protect from a multitude of risks and have very stringent set of requirements. Just like with our protective clothing ensembles, there are many emerging technologies that may be used to make helmets stronger and lighter in weight that we are always looking to incorporate if they can enhance the safety, comfort and protection of first responders.
WYMAN: The American fire service remains fiercely loyal to the traditional-style helmet, such as our Ben 2+. We are constantly working on ways to improve that helmet and our Light Force contemporary version, as well. The fire service is asking for a lighter helmet that feels great and that doesn't sacrifice protection. Our goal is to continue to provide first responders with the most protective, strongest helmet, that also meets their comfort and price needs.
Q: Depending on the incident, firefighters may wear vehicle extrication gloves and also gloves manufactured for firefighting. Can anything be done to keep gloves from getting wet and cold in the winter?
WYMAN: The right combination of material (like kangaroo leather matched with a good moisture barrier) can do a lot to keep water from penetrating gloves. But keeping water out the gloves altogether would require a seal in the sleeve-to-glove interface. We've experimented with a number of solutions and continue to work on the problem. The key is making the seal comfortable, easy to activate, and affordable.
EYE SAFETY SYSTEMS
BOB MERCURIO Fire/Industrial Program Manager Eye Safety Systems Inc.
MARK MORDECAI Director of Business Development Globe Manufacturing Company LLC
SANDY LONGARZO Marketing Administration Manager HAIX North America Inc.
TONY WYMAN Vice President Sales and Marketing Honeywell
MIKE MONDOUX Director of Sales INNOTEX
KAREN LEHTONEN Director of Products LION
ALEXIS NASCIMENTO Public Relations/Social Media Manager U.S. Marketing Team Magnum Boots
PETER NICHOLAS Vice President Quaker Safety Products Corp.
JOEY UNDERWOOD Senior Vice President Safety Components International
SØREN HANSEN Sales Director
JENS PETER KRUSE Vice President Global Fire Segment & PPE Products
VIKING LIFE-SAVING EQUIPMENT A/S