Manufacturers Roundtable: Personal Protective Equipment

Firehouse Magazine invited a cross-section of personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers to join our latest roundtable discussion centering on firefighter safety issues.


FIREHOUSE: Are any colors of PPE being requested more than others? Does color matter in regard to the protection the gear will afford the wearer?

YOUNG: Historically, the Northern cities chose black, and those in the South preferred lighter shades. More departments are looking for justification to switch to darker shades, which do not show soiling as easily. In most cases, the color of the outer shell does not significantly impact the thermal protection of the garment; most of a garment's thermal protection and heat stress relief is controlled by the inner components. In addition, most of the outer shell colors are transparent to radiant heat transmitted in a smoke-filled room, so the rate of heating is independent of color. The darker colors will also increase the contrast and visible impact of reflective trim.

FIREHOUSE: At what temperature and for how long does the PPE provide protection before the wearer could become injured during severe structural firefighting conditions?

YOUNG: Most burn injuries occur with minimal damage to the gear. All of the components in firefighter PPE are tested to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes to demonstrate stability. Unfortunately, the firefighter cannot be exposed to those temperatures without sustaining severe burn injuries. The PPE protects the wearer by using air layers between and within each component to reduce the transfer of heat energy. Injury occurs when the layers against the skin (face cloth, hoods, wristlets or stationwear) heat the skin faster than it can naturally cool itself. The rate that these materials heat up will depend on the external heat flux (rate of heat flow) and the efficiency of the insulation, moisture and compression will reduce the effectiveness of any insulation layer. The standard measure of insulation in a turnout composite is the TPP value; it exposes the fabrics to a temperature greater than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit with a heat flux of 2.0 cal/sq cm-sec. All NFPA 1971-compliant turnout gear must provide a minimum TPP of 35 cal/sq cm. This would predict a burn injury after 17.5 seconds of exposure, but burn injuries can occur much faster because of stored energy, heat momentum or moisture in the materials.

FIRE-DEX - STEVE BONAMER
National Sales and Marketing
Manager, Fire-Dex

FIREHOUSE: Are there any new additions to PPE, specifically to coats and pants, to improve firefighter safety?

BONAMER: Comfort and mobility of gear continues to be the focus for most fire professionals. The ability to perform their duties with as little restriction as possible remains the focus for manufacturers and firefighters. Additionally, even though escape systems have been available for years, the ability to have them better integrated into PPE as well as being easier to use is currently getting significant attention.

FIREHOUSE: Are any colors of PPE being requested more than others? Does color matter in regard to the protection the gear will afford the wearer?

BONAMER: Color does not play as much of a factor as the protection and comfort of the gear. While many do have a particular color they are interested in, they are also very interested in the protective and comfort features of the garment such as the way it fits and moves.

FIREHOUSE: At what temperature and for how long does the PPE provide protection before the wearer could become injured during severe structural firefighting conditions?

BONAMER: Personal protective equipment must meet minimum requirements for protection. Turnout coats and pants are constructed with three layers: an outer shell, moisture barrier and thermal liner. When combined in an ensemble, they provide the firefighter with protection from heat, flames and other occupational hazards. PPE must have a minimum thermal protective performance which measures the time to both pain and to a second-degree burn. All NFPA-certified gear needs to protect a firefighter from a second-degree burn for 17.5 seconds in a simulated flashover exposure.

GLOBE - ROB FREESE
Senior Vice President Marketing
Globe Manufacturing Co., LLC