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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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.