Tools & Technologies: Fire Service Prepares for Change In PPE Technology

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...


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An examination of any potential replacement solutions should include some context regarding the producer of Nomex filament and why the decision was made to discontinue offering it for fire service applications. Throughout its 200-plus-year history, DuPont has been a global leader in technological advancements for a variety of industries, especially the personal protective equipment (PPE) industry. Some of these game-changing discoveries include: Teflon®, the treatment used in virtually all bunker gear to keep fabrics dry; Kevlar®, which is used in approximately 80% of modern turnout gear outer shells to strengthen and reinforce fabrics containing PBI or Nomex fibers; and Nomex, which was the first inherently flame-resistant fiber used to protect firefighters. It’s now been over 40 years since DuPont first developed Nomex in 1967. This development commenced a new era of progress in PPE for the military, industrial workers and for first-responders – especially firefighters.

Given its utility in an ever-growing number of applications and industries, it’s no wonder that the demand for Nomex filament has grown exponentially, particularly during the last decade. During that time, DuPont has been unable to increase production at a rate sufficient to match the pace of the ever-growing global demands of the military, fire service, law enforcement, automobile industry, etc., so it has been compelled to identify options to address this growing supply and demand disparity. Reluctantly, one aspect of the strategy selected was to discontinue the use of Nomex filament within the fire service industry.

 

“Drop-in” filament available

Although necessary, this was apparently a difficult decision to make because DuPont has always been known as a collaborative partner of the fire service. Conversely, the company could feel somewhat better about making this painful decision because it felt confident in the availability and quality of an alternate filament fiber to immediately replace Nomex filament.

In fact, fundamental to the decision to eliminate Nomex filament in the fire service was the knowledge that DuPont had a readily available “drop-in” filament product with similar, if not superior, performance properties. Kevlar filament is very similar to Nomex in structure and characteristics, but is also five to six times as strong as Nomex filament on an equal-weight basis. Given its similarities and strength superiority, it would be reasonable to expect at least equivalent performance from face cloths using Kevlar filament in lieu of Nomex filament. Furthermore, Kevlar has a well-established history of usage in the fire service in outer shells and thermal liners. It is therefore not a great leap into the unknown to incorporate the Kevlar filament into thermal liner face cloths.

In addition, DuPont has recently brought a new, state-of-the-art Kevlar production facility online and is confident in its long-term ability to keep pace with expected growth and demand. The Cooper River facility just outside Charleston, SC, is an investment that illustrates DuPont’s commitment to supplying Kevlar and Kevlar filament for countless years into the future.

None of this is meant to suggest that using Kevlar filament is the only alternate solution to replacing Nomex filament in fire service thermal liners. But there is no denying that the readily availability of a viable DuPont-produced replacement was a major factor in its decision to discontinue the use of Nomex filament in our industry. The fact is that textile manufacturers will consider other possible alternatives as well. Hopefully, those options will not eventually include the use of filaments produced overseas. In my opinion, such a development would be to the ultimate detriment of the U.S. fire service and related industries.

In the end, the final effects and outcomes of the loss of Nomex filament to our industry remain to be seen. Optimistically, this change will be recognized as an opportunity for improvement that it represents and the consequences of this seemingly subtle change will be to the ultimate benefit of firefighters everywhere.