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

DI GIOVANNI: As I teach in my seminars, it is never a question of just "temperature." Injury or thermal damage is dependent on three factors: temperature, time and medium. A burn injury can occur under low heat flux with a long exposure or high heat flux with very little time. Add to this the medium of heat transmission and you can see how it is not just a case of degrees. The other factor related to medium is water. Water has a very high specific heat - that means the H2O molecule will absorb a lot of heat energy before it turns to steam. The mere presence of water in the turnout system may disguise the effect of heat for the wearer and cause firefighter misjudgment. Following SOPs is very important in helping to prevent injuries. Fire protective clothing helps, but ultimately, the firefighter must be aware of all the factors.

TENCATE SOUTHERN MILLS - ELLIAD GRANGER
Marketing Manager
TenCate SouthernMills Inc.

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

GRANGER: TenCate SouthernMills recently developed Quntum3D, a new patent-pending thermal barrier that provides an excellent combination of thermal protective performance (TPP) and total heat loss (THL). Utilizing this new technology, we were able to increase TPP without sacrificing THL performance. Quantum3D works very well in combination with several of our outer shells: Millenia XT, Gemini with Matrix Technology and Advance ultra to provide some of the highest levels of thermal protection and comfort available on the market.

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?

GRANGER: Some of our most popular-selling outer shell colors are natural, khaki, yellow and black. It should, however, be noted that choosing an outer shell fabric based on color can actually limit your choices. Some of the best-performing fibers (like those found in Millenia XT and Advance ultra) are also the most difficult to dye. Color has absolutely no impact on the protection level of turnout gear. It is strictly aesthetic.

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

GRANGER: This is a very tough and complicated question. NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, includes several performance requirements and test methods intended to ensure that the materials used in the construction of PPE are appropriate for this use, and that the PPE will provide a minimum level of thermal protection. However, it is impossible to say exactly how long a wearer will be protected from a burn injury because there are too many variables in firefighting. Burn injuries are a function of both temperature and time. A firefighter can receive a burn in a very short time (seconds) in a severe exposure such as a flashover, or over the course of minutes in a less severe exposure. Burn injuries can occur regardless of the PPE or the materials, if the exposure is too long and/or the thermal energy too high.

W.L. GORE - HOLLY BLAKE
Product Specialist
W.L. Gore & Associates Inc.

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

BLAKE: As a manufacturer of moisture barriers, W.L. Gore & Associates has always been committed to improving safety for firefighters. To this end, we have introduced two new products in the past year - CROSSTECH 3-Layer Moisture Barrier and our new moisture barrier using Gore CHEMPAK Selectively Permeable Fabric.