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.

Armor 7.0 combines a 50% content of military-grade ballistic Kevlar with a spun-yarn blend of Nomex and Kevlar in a lightweight fabric. By using 50% military-grade ballistic Kevlar, we are delivering fabric tensile and tear strength never before seen in outer shells. This all translates into better protection from rips and tears and improved fabric integrity and strength after exposure to flame. We also developed Armor with our ComfortBlend weave to provide better freedom of movement for lower work stress.

Our ShadowBox thermal liners optimize filament Nomex to deliver enhanced lubricity and moisture management for firefighters. We believe thermal liners are generally an unappreciated part of the firefighter ensemble, but they actually play as great a role in firefighter safety as the outer shell. Heat stress affects firefighters daily so these improvements to freedom of movement and moisture management are a critical enhancement for firefighter safety. We think ShadowBox is an excellent addition to our Glide and Chambray thermal liner systems.

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?

UNDERWOOD: Gold. We are selling more gold outer shells than any other color and the trend to gold continues to escalate. Some cities prefer black and will always prefer black, but we don't see any great change in black demand. Our other colors such as yellow and bronze are running at historical rates.

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

UNDERWOOD: Outer shells with PBI fiber, such as our PBI Matrix, provide better thermal protection in flashovers than shells of other fibers. Our new Armor 7.0 also provides better protection than traditional fiber-blended outer shells. Our patented Teflon F-PPE that we add to all our outer shell fabrics, help keep water out of the system to greatly reduce the propensity for steam burns.

Again, however, I must stress the importance the thermal liner plays in this equation. The thermal liner/moisture barrier combination will drive TPP and THL performance. It is the system, and how the system is engineered, that provides protection from heat. Firefighters need to really understand the performance of each layer in their PPE.

Strategic Marketing Director
Sperian Protective Apparel

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

DI GIOVANNI: From a broader perspective, the chemistry of the fabric materials has remained essentially unchanged over the last 10 years or so. There have been innovations such as filament fibers, as well as special weaves that have produced improved water shedding, durability and mobility. From a design perspective, there seems to be a return to a larger suit that allows for more ease of mobility and comfort. This is likely due to the fact that fire departments are being asked to do more and more multiple tasks. While there have been a plethora of new options, they tend to be more dependent on unique departmental needs. Lately, we are seeing many manufacturers integrating harness systems for quick escape or rescue. What is important to remember with the addition of new options is that it sometimes is a trade-off that results in greater weight for the firefighter. The next 10 years should be even more interesting as we meet the new challenges and needs of the firefighters. Special chemical neutralizing barriers for terrorist treats as well as integration of electronics to monitor, locate and warn firefighters seem to be in the works.

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?

DI GIOVANNI: Tan, natural or gold are all derivatives of a beige color that remains by far the most popular color. While this seems normal to us, was not long ago that firefighters were wearing yellow and not long before that black rubber coats. The lighter colors typically do better in terms of reflecting heat from the sun, which makes it more comfortable in hotter climates; however, it does display dirt more prominently. Lately, there has been more demand for black or dark navy. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no studies demonstrating that color has any effects on protection - and that includes visibility. Such a test would be challenging as there would be so many parameters to review.