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: 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?