You & Your Bunker Gear – Part 2

 


  Last month, we began covering an amazing rescue and close call by FDNY Firefighter Peter Demontreux. As is evident by his actions and the end result of this fire, in addition to his high level of training (as provided both initially and ongoing by the FDNY), there are numerous...


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Last month, we began covering an amazing rescue and close call by FDNY Firefighter Peter Demontreux. As is evident by his actions and the end result of this fire, in addition to his high level of training (as provided both initially and ongoing by the FDNY), there are numerous technological pieces of equipment to support what we as firefighters do, but there are few more important “pieces of equipment” than our bunker gear. As we have emphasized, literally the only thing that can sometimes be between us and the fire, is our bunker gear, as a part of our entire personal protective equipment (PPE) ensemble – helmet, hood, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), gloves, bunker coat, bunker pants and boots.

While we must be vigilant in the spending of the taxpayers’ dollars, how we spend their money directly correlates to our ability to assist them when they need us the most. Buy low-cost, cheap and unproven fire apparatus that barely meets specs (yours or national) and it barely may be able to function when you need it most. Buy cheap “bare-minimum” radios and, again, they may work fine “day to day,” but when you need them most, in the worst conditions, how will the radios function when you transmit? The same theory must go for anything that directly relates to our ability to serve those who need us and protect ourselves in the performance of our duties.

In these times of extreme budget scrutiny, it is easy for our elected officials and those who work at city hall to look at low-cost, low-bid equipment that “meets standards.” It is also common for salespeople to attempt to convince the “unknowing” non-fire personnel that “their” product is all we need. The people who make decisions on what will protect you must understand why those are minimum standards and you must be able to explain why the public is often best served by purchasing above those minimums. It is kind of like “minimum” insurance – it’s great and saves you money, until you need to make a claim. That’s when you find out what you really saved.

Make sure that those participating and making those fiscal decisions genuinely understand the importance of your bunker gear. Take time to make sure your bunker gear specs are the absolute top priority of your organization. Take time to educate those folks on gear and what levels of protection are available and what is used to “measure” the function ability and protection ability of your gear.

What are your department’s TPP and THL numbers? According to firefighter safety and survival experts, thermal protective performance (TPP) defines how well the protective ensemble (your bunker gear) protects you, as a firefighter, from the thermal environment (fire and heat conditions) using a standardized laboratory test procedure. The higher the TPP number, the higher the level of insulation provided. The minimum is 35 TPP, which is an exposure of 17.5 seconds times the specified 2.0 cal/sq. cm/sec. heat load (1,000 degrees Celsius/1,832 degrees Fahrenheit range). I know, “professor”-type stuff. Relax and keep reading; it gets clearer.

Total heat loss (THL) is a measure of how much heat can escape directly through the layers of the garment composite (again, your bunker gear) and is often referred to as “breathability.” The higher the THL number, the higher the composite’s “breathability.” It is defined as numeric value for the number of watts of electrical energy per square meter to maintain a hot plate placed beneath the composite at a stable temperature using a standardized laboratory test procedure. While this may be a bit confusing, just keep reading.

There is an important relationship between TPP and THL since as one goes up, in most cases the other goes down. Bunker gear with high TPP values may result in increased levels of heat stress to the firefighter, whereas gear with high THL values may not provide firefighters with adequate thermal protection.

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