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Change is an inescapable reality of our everyday lives and certainly the fire service is not immune to that reality. Sometimes, the need for change is recognized by an organization and generated internally. Other times, change occurs around us and we are compelled to adapt. Change and the consequences of change can at times be obvious – for example, when the fire service transitioned from long coats and rubber boots to modern-day fire-resistant bunker coats and pants. More often, the changes may be more subtle, yet the effects may be profoundly significant. Either way, the most successful and durable organizations recognize change as an opportunity to improve rather than as a burden.
One such external, rather subtle, yet very significant change is about to occur within the fire service. In early January, a letter from DuPont™ was distributed that announced a decision to discontinue the supply of Nomex® filament from the fire service industry at the end of 2012. Many firefighters will not recognize the significance of this move. However, Nomex filament is the primary yarn used in the manufacturing of high-performance thermal liner face cloth fabrics present in much of today’s bunker gear. Most, if not all, of the premium-performing thermal liners produced by textile manufacturers such as Safety Components and Tencate incorporate Nomex filament in the face cloth of the liner. To be more specific, approximately 50% of firefighters in North America presently wear turnouts that include Nomex filament in their thermal liner. Because the discontinuation of Nomex filament affects at least half of the fire service, it certainly is not an overstatement to characterize this change as significant.
The overwhelming majority of filament-based thermal liner face cloths contain 25% or 60% filament. The remaining constituent yarns of filament-based face cloths are generally Nomex spun yarns. It is important to note here that spun yarn is vastly different than filament yarn.
Filament is employed in the face cloth of bunker gear thermal liners for two main reasons. First, the presence of filament increases the “slickness,” or lubricity, of the face cloth. A slick face cloth makes donning and doffing turnouts easier and increases wearer comfort by facilitating firefighter movement within the garments. Second, because filament is more resistant to absorbing moisture than spun yarns, filament-based thermal liners improve moisture management within the liner system by reducing the amount of moisture absorbed by the thermal liner. The result is a liner that dries more quickly than thermal liners made with 100% spun yarn.
Many fire departments are convinced of the importance of these two performance attributes and have come to appreciate and to expect them in their turnout gear. As a matter of fact, nine out of the top 10 largest metro departments in the United States presently wear thermal liners with filament-based thermal liner face cloths.
It is clear the presence of Nomex filament in so many present-day thermal liners plays an important role in “setting the bar” for important performance properties that firefighters now demand of their turnouts. Given these established expectations, it will be incumbent upon the various mills to research, identify and develop alternative solutions to the use of Nomex filament in order to at least maintain those now-customary performance attributes. The mills should recognize and exploit this necessary research as an opportunity not merely to maintain these qualities, but to improve them.