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...
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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?