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.


FREESE: This is a more complex issue than many often give credit. In a catastrophic event, such as a flashover, the gear is designed to give protection for a minimum of 17.5 seconds before the wearer sustains a second-degree burn (TPP 35). That being said, there are many circumstances firefighters encounter that are less severe, yet they sustain a burn injury. Getting burned is a function of time and temperature. Think of moving your finger through the flame of a candle. You can do it! Leave it there and you are going to get burned. Tissue damage from heat is a function of time and temperature. The clothing we wear includes fibers primarily of Nomex, Kevlar, PBI and PBO. These fibers will endure heat from 800F to 1,200F before their properties change and break down; human skin begins around 130F. Under lower heat condition, this tells us that a temperature exposure above 130F long enough will yield human skin damage, perhaps with no detrimental effect on the gear whatsoever! Training and awareness are critical to staying safe.

INNOTEX - LOUIS CARPENTIER
President
Innotex Inc.

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

CARPENTIER: Of course, we at INNOTEX are always looking for new features to improve firefighter safety. Our new EMK (Enhanced Mobility Knee) is a perfect example on how improving our design through ergonomic studies with firefighters has enabled us to lower the level of effort required when climbing, kneeling or crawling, therefore reducing the probabilities of heat stress incidents occurring. In addition, we are currently working on a new variable collar system (patent pending) that will help reduce the risk of getting burned in the neck area.

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?

CARPENTIER: We do not feel that color is a major factor in the level of protection from any outer shell material. However, the newer outer shells introduced seem to be offered in lighter colors such as tan and yellow. In addition, it may be easier to detect a garment that is contaminated or soiled with lighter colors.

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

CARPENTIER: It is not easy to give this question one simple answer, but this is what the measure of the TPP tries to establish. The TPP value is a measurement of the elapsed time for heat emitted from a radiant and convective heat source to penetrate a composite system resulting in a second-degree burn.

It is known that skin will suffer a second-degree burn if it receives an energy amount equal to 1 calorie per surface area. The NFPA committee has decided that TPP testing should be done at 2 cal/s, the equivalent of a flashover situation. So theoretically, a gear with a TPP of 40 would allow a firefighter 20 seconds to escape a critical condition such as a rollover before sustaining a second-degree burn.

Of course, this result can be influenced greatly by the conditions of the garment, its wetness, age, conditions as well as how it was maintained, etc.

LAKELAND - ADAM R. PARKER/> National Sales Manager
Woven Products/Fyrepel/Reflective Apparel Div. Lakeland Industries Inc.

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

PARKER: In reference to any changes to the NFPA 1971 standard, 2007 edition, for firefighting gear, there have been several changes.

The addition of the DRD, drag rescue device, that is used for a person that is down in a rescue situation. The thermal liner in the shoulder area of the garments must be double layered and the THLs were adjusted in order to maximize breathability and comfort.

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?

PARKER: Based upon our history, khaki and black are our two most requested colors. Color really doesn't matter in reference to the protection the gear will afford the wearer. The protection is based upon fabric and fabric combinations in order to reach the optimal TPP and THL performances.

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

PARKER: Since this is not usually a controlled situation, and the user has many different options regarding outer shell, thermal barrier and moisture barrier combinations, the temperature will vary based upon the many combinations the user has to choose from. NFPA 1971, 2007, offers a good outline on the minimum standards all gear needs to meet based upon the TPP and THL.

PBI - KIMBERLY M. HENRY
Director of Marketing & Sales - NA Performance Fabrics
PBI Performance Products Inc.