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

FREESE: This is a multifaceted question that takes us to many different levels. Globe is currently looking at every level of the PPE and listening to the industry and user communities to drive our innovations. We have watched what has been a very traditional business become more robust and accepting to technological change. First, I would say there are myriad products that are available to the firefighter and choosing the right gear for the job means education. Nationwide, over 85% of the activity of the fire department is not structural firefighting, it's all the other stuff, and for us that means our Globe LifeLine brand, which encompasses everything from NFPA 1999 EMS clothing to multi-certified NFPA 1951 Technical Rescue clothing and clothing that is more technical to protect the wearer from the current threat.

There is clothing we anticipate that will be commercially available in the coming year which will meet the stringent requirements of NFPA 1971 structural clothing combined with the CBRN option. We have been developing this technology with Homeland Security, DuPont and North Carolina State, implemented by the Technical Support Working Group, over several years for design and testing in live chemical and simulant environments.

We are a company who makes constant improvement with implementation a part of our culture. As the industry has come to adopt the requirements of NFPA 1851, which speaks to selection, care, and maintenance of firefighters' clothing, we have established Globe CARES (Cleaning And Repair Evaluation Services). This entity within our family of brands serves to provide education on the cleaning and repair of clothing so it can be ready to perform when the firefighter needs it, contributing better wellness by keeping the clothing more free of unburned particulate and chemical effluent released by combustion.

What we learn helps the clothing supply chain and the standards process as well. W.L. Gore has developed a moisture barrier that is more durable with respect to abrasion. Globe provides an Internet program without charge called for the purposes of assisting with the documentation required for a department to become compliant with the 1851 standard.

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?

FREESE: Color has been a matter of preference for the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) often as an association of a particular function. For example, we as humans can segregate by color much faster than by reading, so a chief wears white and departments wear differing colors as a matter of easy operational differentiation. Many departments have traded in yellow, originally purchased for visibility in favor of gear that uses more protective fibers, but which don't lend themselves to being dyed because of their high-tech chemical make-up. As for protection from heat and flame, there have been studies in the past that indicated in a layered system such as turnout gear color has little effect on the wearers' comfort or performance.

Firefighters being killed or injured in roadway incidents has caused folks to adopt ANSI requirements for roadway operations. These standards require fluorescence in their background color, something which is not yet attainable with today's technical inherent flame resistant fibers and dye technology, combined with retroreflective performance. To be compliant, departments have to sacrifice flame resistance by donning a traffic vest, a situation we hope to be able to mitigate with, first, a better understanding of what the approaching motorist deems visible and adopting technology that corresponds with those findings.

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