When choosing boots, firefighters and departments consider a variety of factors, but one of the most common concerns tends to be cost. This quite often leads to the purchase of rubber boots over leather boots. However, many factors that relate to safety should be considered in addition to cost...
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• Decontamination — Firefighters face a number of contaminants when responding to fires, motor vehicle accidents and other types of emergencies. Thus, when considering a boot, it is important to understand how much protection a boot offers against these types of threats at the emergency scene. However, in addition to being protected against contaminants during exposure, a firefighter must be able to remove the contaminants effectively from the boots.
A 2008 study performed in the laboratories of W.L. Gore & Associates provided surprising results about decontamination of firefighter boots. Prior to this study, the fire industry held the belief that rubber boots decontaminated better than leather boots. Gore's study, however, showed that after a standard decontamination procedure, rubber retained significantly more contaminants than leather (see chart on page 134). One of the significant results was for isooctane (gasoline), a frequently encountered chemical at emergency scenes. The rubber samples retained an average of 288 micrograms per one-inch sample, whereas the leather samples were almost fully decontaminated, containing less than 0.2 micrograms per one-inch sample after decontamination.
• Increasing safety — All of these boot features affect the safety of the firefighter:
- Reducing boot weight increases performance and lowers exertion, thus lowering the risk of injury.
- Constructing a better-fitting boot improves agility and stability, also lowering the risk of injury.
- Using breathable materials increases comfort and reduces moisture, which helps prevent blisters and sores.
- Improving decontamination reduces potential exposure to hazardous chemicals.
WILLIAM F. CANDY, PE, has been the Americas product manager for technical footwear at W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. for five years, after having been a member of Gore's new product development team for six years. He received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University and a master of engineering in mechanical engineering degree from Villanova University.