Download PDF version

More than an outfit. More thought than one leg at a time. Putting on the uniform is not just an ordinary daily task, but a habitual part of preparing for the unexpected. Yes, a firefighter’s uniform is more than an outfit. Think about who is wearing it and the risks they are exposed to on a daily basis.

The firefighter comes from a long line of heroes, a brotherhood and sisterhood, with traditions to uphold and a reputation to maintain. Their uniform is no different. Its historical navy-blue threads. Classic, professional appearance. Tactical features. Technology-driven fabric. Over time, the uniform’s engineering has needed to adapt with new designs and react to worsened exposures and more dangerous rescue missions. The 21st Century firefighter’s uniform is unique and specific to the job with current trends fixating on the best user experience while future plans focus on preventative and safety measures due to increased societal and architectural risks.

Comfortable firefighter uniform

So, what does the 21st Century firefighter want? Comfort. Beyond Personal Protective Equipment, it is an overwhelming plea for a more comfortable uniform to wear. This includes garments that are easy “wash and wear” materials that do not require additional ironing.

Firefighters do not want to
lose the professional
appearance or tactical
functionality of the uniform

The trend calls for lightweight, breathable, cool-weather wear that is less restrictive and offers more give and more stretch so firefighters can perform their job responsibilities more efficiently. However, they do not want to lose the professional appearance or tactical functionality of the uniform.

We need something that looks presentable every time,” said Chief Robert Burdette of Grand Blanc Fire Department, Michigan.

Additionally, more firefighters are also starting to wear polo shirts or mesh T-shirts under their Turnout gear, for a lighter weight, more breathable option from the traditional uniform shirt.

Firefighters are also starting to wear polo shirts or mesh T-shirts under their Turnout gear
The trend calls for lightweight, breathable, cool-weather wear that is less restrictive

Risk of cancer

Unfortunately, comfort is not the only concern firefighters have when it comes to uniforms, or their safety in general. As risky and demanding of a profession the fire service can be, the fires have proven not to be the most hazardous or life threatening. According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, “Cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today.”

A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concluded that firefighters have a 9% increased chance of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% increased chance to die from cancer compared to the general United States population.

Chief Dennis Jenkerson of the St. Louis Fire Department in Missouri is one of many chiefs actively fighting these statistics. Responsible for 32 firehouses, Jenkerson has witnessed the reality of this threat with the loss of four of his own and understands the validity of the situation. For the last 18 months, the St. Louis Fire Department has made headway implementing a drastic culture change by evaluating everything from equipment, apparel, lifestyle and more. 

Cancer affecting firefighters

It is so prevalent that everything we do anymore has to do with some emphasis on protecting firefighters from getting cancer,” said Chief Mike Ramm of Sylvania Township Fire Department, Ohio.

Cancer is the most dangerous
threat to firefighter health
and safety today

According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, the cancers that have mostly affected firefighters are respiratory (lung, mesothelioma), gastrointestinal (oral cavity, esophageal, large intestine) and kidney.

Testicular cancer is through the roof,” added Jenkerson, who has pushed his firefighters to get tested for cancers earlier than normally necessary. He also explained that the imagery of a firefighter drinking from a fire hydrant can no longer happen. He emphasized the importance of cleaning up instantly after every fire.

Think of the simple act of removing grimy gloves after a call – at least one hand has been exposed to the cancerous contaminants if it was accidentally used to take off the other glove. If that unwashed, contaminated hand touches food that goes into the mouth of the firefighter, he/she is essentially eating what may cause esophageal, oral cavity or gastric cancers.

When burned, building create carcinogens that the firefighters are exposed to firsthand
Cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today

According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) via the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, cancer caused 61% of the career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from January 1, 2002 to March 31, 2017. Additionally, 70% of the line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters were because of cancer in 2016. Unfortunately, this hazard is not going away any time soon.

The new building materials and new house furnishings have become the culprit for this major concern. These materials are man-made and are not of natural resources. When burned, they create deadly carcinogens that the firefighters are getting exposed to firsthand.

Immediate decontamination process

Jenkerson’s implementation of a culture change includes an immediate decontamination process following a fire, which involves getting hosed with water, cleansing wipes for all soft tissue areas of the body and an immediate shower back at the station.

Any place you can get a five degree rise in skin temperature, the absorption level goes up 10 times,” Jenkerson warned. His firefighters are instructed to remove their bunker gear, uniform, helmet and all other equipment right away that get immediately washed once they have returned to the station.

Hems, collars, cuffs and cargo
pockets are areas of the uniform
where toxins get caught

He also restricts all firefighters and EMTs from going on a second run until they have showered and have put on a new, clean set of clothes, all the way down to their underwear. “There are no two-runs. We have to get this stuff off [of them].”

Uniform manufacturers are tasked with finding a solution to help facilitate Jenkerson’s and other Fire Chiefs’ visions by designing a uniform with as little gaps and fold-over materials as possible.

Everything needs to be sealed tight,” Jenkerson explained. Hems, collars, cuffs and cargo pockets are all areas of the uniform where toxins get caught. A lightweight shirt option that offers a crew collar with a two to three button placket and a lightweight, ventilated hidden cargo pant could be the future of fire uniforms.

There isn’t another profession that has the thousands of dangers that we have every day,” Ramm explained.

Additional and ongoing efforts currently underway according to the NFPA Journal, include those by the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, the Congressional Firefighter Cancer Registry, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the FPRF Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control, and the International Association of Firefighters.

Active shooter emergency response

For firefighters, bullet proof vests are often beneficial
Firefighters and EMTs increasingly need to wear bullet proof vests with the surge in active shooter calls

An additional and unfortunate trend that is also sweeping the nation is the need for firefighters and EMTs to wear bullet proof vests. Departments are trying their best to arm their men and women with this protection along with ballistic helmets in certain regions due to the surge in active shooter calls.

In areas that have a lot of gang-related activity, [bullet proof vests] would be beneficial,” said Jason Reyes of Allen Fire Department, Texas. “Sometimes you go on calls when the city doesn’t have enough police to respond to calls, which creates a situation that leaves firefighters unprotected and vulnerable.”

Currently the market has ballistic vests available that can either be worn over or under a firefighter’s uniform and under their bunker gear. Uniform manufacturers also offer an external vest carrier option that is worn over a firefighter’s uniform to look like part of the uniform shirt to maintain a professional appearance.

Distinguishing firefighters from law enforcement

Firefighters find themselves becoming targets more and more these days,” added Deputy Chief of Operations Dwayne Jamison of Bartow County Fire Department, Georgia. “Many departments, including my own, are looking to outfit their firefighters with bullet proof vests.”

Although this trend has not affected every region, industry experts can see the need becoming more widespread if threats continue to increase the way they have been. Along the same lines, firefighters want to be identified as firefighters and not mistaken for law enforcement.

We don’t want to look like police,” Jenkerson said. “We want to be identified as firefighters. Even if it takes a different stripe.”

When it comes to uniform trends for firefighters, it is clear there is more to focus on than the technical details. For many fire departments, future trends could serve as a tool to prevent deadly toxins from being absorbed and from lethal bullets puncturing unprotected firefighters and EMTs. The uniform is more than an outfit. With a larger purpose than to shield a body, the uniform goes beyond the navy-blue threads, professional appearance and tactical features to one day supporting what could be a lifesaving concept.

Sources

  1. Firefighter Cancer Support Network, Preventing Cancer in the Fire Service
  2. National Fire Protection AssociationFirefighters and Cancer
  3. NFPA Journal, Fast Track: Some of the national efforts underway to fight cancer in the fire service; Roman, Jesse; 2017 
Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

In case you missed it

Preventing Restaurant Fires Requires Maintenance And Technology
Preventing Restaurant Fires Requires Maintenance And Technology

Many restaurants around the world are suffering from loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has made fire prevention a lower priority. Fire authorities should work with restaurant owners and associations to address this issue and offer guidelines and training to increase awareness in the community. Restaurant fires account for about 6% of all non-residential building fires reported to fire departments each year, according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS). These fires resulted in an average of less than one fatality per 1,000 fires, 11 injuries per 1,000 fires, and US$ 23,000 in loss per fire. Cooking, major cause of restaurant fires As one might expect, cooking is by far the leading cause of restaurant fires, accounting for 64% of restaurant fires, according to NFIRS. Heating and electrical malfunction each accounted for an additional 7% of incidents. All other causes, including unintentional, careless actions (4%), appliances (4%), other heat (3%) and several other categories at less than 3%, each accounted for the remaining 23% of restaurant fires, according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the top five causes of fires in restaurants are cooking equipment, with 61%, followed by electrical fires, heating equipment, smoking materials and intentional. Kitchen exhaust systems under high fire risk equipment At the top of the list of fire risks, related to cooking equipment, is a kitchen’s exhaust systems At the top of the list of fire risks, related to cooking equipment, is a kitchen’s exhaust systems, which are a common cause of fire, when they are not properly maintained. They build up grease, until a point where the hot smoke and steam that goes through the ventilation ignites that grease and causes fires. Also, grease traps should be properly emptied and cleaned or they will catch fire. Also, related to cooking, other common causes of restaurant fires are gas leaks or malfunctions due to poor maintenance. Not as common, but also a culprit of fire losses are fires caused by inadequate use of deep fryers or large cooking pans, and faulty cooking equipment such as pressure cookers. Detectors and automatic suppression systems Ivan Paredes, Latin American Head of Product Marketing for Fire Detection at Bosch Security and Safety Systems, lists the following technologies used to prevent and/or minimize restaurant fires: Automatic suppression systems built into stoves and oven hoods. Foam that reacts with the grease and CO2 extinguishing are the most common. Heat and smoke detectors located near the cooking area. UL 268 7th edition-approved smoke detectors can be installed inside kitchens and should not give unwanted alarms. Flammable gas leak detectors and automatic fail-safe valves to avoid gas leaks. Importance of regular maintenance of systems “The main challenge in fire prevention in restaurants is awareness and local regulation compliance,” said Ivan Paredes, adding “Restaurant owners should schedule regular maintenance of systems, proper cleaning of areas where grease and oil build up or are stored, and guarantee proper ventilation of the kitchen at all times.” He adds, “Restaurant staff also should be properly trained in fire prevention as well as the use of fire extinguishers and the systems installed (automatic suppression, gas leak detection, etc.) and regular housekeeping helps avoid flammable materials igniting near fire sources such as stoves and ovens.”

PAMS Software Promotes Accountability Of Fire Service Responders
PAMS Software Promotes Accountability Of Fire Service Responders

The fire service has always struggled with maintaining accurate accountability of personnel who are responding or operating in emergencies. Lack of firefighter accountability is often cited as a contributing factor in Line of Duty Deaths (LODD). Compounding the accountability challenge are volunteer responders who can be coming from anywhere, with some going to the station and others going direct. The existing accountability tools and processes were unreliable and failed when needed the most. Need for reliable and accurate system As a firefighter and Incident Commander, Justin Brundage witnessed firsthand the data gaps of the tools and processes commonly used. A reliable and accurate system was needed in the fire service to avoid unnecessary risk to responses and responders. The intuitive process fits within an existing response workflow and provides an end-to-end solution  Seeking to address the problem, Brundage co-founded Incident Management Technology, whose Personnel Accountability Management System (PAMS) software is a solution for maintaining accurate and reliable firefighter accountability. The intuitive process fits within an existing response workflow and provides an end-to-end solution for firefighter accountability. The software was developed to solve operational gaps in emergency response and to help departments operate more effectively and safely. Real-time operations With the PAMS system, all personnel can see the available, deployed, and responding staff and resources in real-time on a mobile app or web browser. Responding apparatus are also viewable in real-time, including all the personnel on the apparatus. At an incident, the software tools simplify the accurate tracking and management of all personnel on the scene and enable a shared common picture of the who, what, and where of all responders at all times. PAMS gives department members and officers the information they need in real-time to optimize their responses. “We do this by sharing availability and response information throughout the department on a smartphone app,” says Brundage. Operational safety In addition to the improvement in operational safety that agencies get from PAMS, the software also improves response. “When all responders can see the other responders’ destinations and estimated times of arrival (ETAs) they can adapt and optimize the response efficiency by responding where they are needed most and not duplicating unnecessarily,” says Brundage.  PAMS software functions as an electronic equivalent to tag-based systems, which are ineffective, cumbersome, and error-prone. The key difference is that, by being electronic, the “accountability” information is viewable to anyone connected to the agency in real-time, regardless of location. Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) The software manages the responder throughout the lifecycle of the emergency response New incidents are sent to the responder mobile app automatically from computer-aided dispatch (CAD). Responders mark up if they are responding, and the system calculates and shares each responder's destination and ETA. The software manages the responder throughout the lifecycle of the emergency response. The entire department can see who is responding, who is assigned to each responding apparatus, who is operating at the incident, and where they are operating. Because this is an electronic process managing the personnel, is much easier with timers on task activities, and a simple and quick participatory action research (PAR) process. Fits in emergency workflow PAMS software is designed to fit into the existing workflow of an emergency response. “As responders ourselves we understand the burden of adding more operational requirements to the already chaotic moments of response and incident mitigation,” says Brundage. PAMS was built to work effectively on the equipment that is in many cases already deployed and installed in the response apparatus. The mobile app is available for iOS and Android and is used by the personnel responders, and then the web app is browser-based and can run on a browser window on tablets, mobile computing devices (MDCs), and laptops. Affordable, But has a lack of awareness In rolling out the product, awareness has proven to be a challenge for Incident Management Technology. “As a startup company most agencies that would benefit from the system aren’t aware that a solution like this even exists,” says Brundage. The system is expanding features and functionality to maximize incident response effectiveness The system is expanding features, functionality, and integrations rapidly intending to build an affordable solution for all fire departments to minimize their operational risks and to maximize their incident response effectiveness. Benefits of the software “We are currently having success with organic growth and the network effect,” says Brundage. “Our current customers are showing the system and validating the benefits to other agencies local to them, and we are increasing our awareness that way every day.” He adds, “We love doing web demos and talking to fire and EMS departments. Most fire departments have the same operational challenges, and the feedback we receive from customers and prospects is what we use to drive our next phase of software development.”

Using State-Of-The-Art Technology To Prevent And Put Out Wind Turbine Fires
Using State-Of-The-Art Technology To Prevent And Put Out Wind Turbine Fires

As more and more countries in Europe and North America commit to net zero, a key strategy is replacing old fossil fuel-driven forms of power generation and replacing them with renewable energy, such as wind turbines and solar panels. The wind industry has seen a particular boom, with tens of thousands of new turbines installed every year across the globe. However, like any other heavy machinery, wind turbines can catch fire due to mechanical or electrical failures. These fires can have impacts beyond the turbine if there is secondary fire spread to surrounding lands, resulting in potentially catastrophic loss. Without this technology in place, a single fire could cost $7-8 million and cause substantial downtime. The time is now for the industry to use all available technology to prevent these incidents and reduce the risk of fires spilling into the environment. How do wind turbine fires start? Wind turbine fires can catch fire due to external causes, such as lightning strikes, or internal causes, such as mechanical or electrical failure resulting in sparks or heat in the nacelle. Most nacelle fires start at one of three points of ignition – converter and capacitor cabinets, the nacelle brake, or the transformer. Nacelle brakes are used to stop the turbine’s blades from spinning in an emergency.  Converter and capacitor cabinets and transformers are necessary for the turbine to generate power and transform it into a voltage that can be exported to the grid. An electrical fault at either location can produce arc flashes or sparks, which can ignite nearby Class A combustibles, like cables, plastics, or fiberglass. Nacelle brakes are used to stop the turbine’s blades from spinning in an emergency. The brakes can cause turbine fires, albeit due to sparks from mechanical stress and friction rather than electrical failure. While some turbines have been designed with safer, electrical brakes, mechanical brake systems are often used as a backup in the event of power or control failure. These ignition points are all necessary for the safe generation of electricity from the wind, and cannot simply be designed out. As such, wind farm owners and operators must be ready to deal with fires when they spark. Why are wind turbine fires hard to fight? Modern wind turbines often exceed 250 feet in height, while most ground-based firefighting can only reach up to 100 feet. A team sent up-tower to manually fight the fire would constitute a major health and safety risk, as turbines have limited space and escape routes – putting employees not only in direct contact with fire but at risk of being in the turbine if it collapses. As such, when turbines catch fire, they are often left to burn out, with firefighters’ efforts focused on preventing the spread and clearing the area as fiery debris falls. This results in irreparable damage to the turbine, necessitating its replacement. What is the cost of a wind turbine fire? The cost of replacing a burned-out wind turbine depends on a number of factors. First and foremost is the size and initial cost of the turbine. Turbines with more than 3MW of rated capacity can cost between $3-10 million to install during development. Replacement turbines can often cost even more, as manufacturers are likely to charge more for individual, one-off installations. Another key loss is business interruption, or how long the turbine was offline – and therefore not generating revenue. The average loss due to a turbine fire was estimated by insurance company GCube to be $4.5 million in 2015. As turbines have grown larger and therefore more expensive to replace with greater losses in revenue, we expect a fire to cost anywhere between $7-8 million for new models. How can turbine owners and manufacturers manage fire risk? Firetrace’s system is designed with flexible Heat Detection Tubing, which ruptures in response to extreme heat or open flame Turbine manufacturers are already taking steps to “design out” fire risk in turbines. For example, lightning protection systems on turbine blades safely re-direct the surge of electricity away from cables, while condition monitoring systems can identify whether a component is overheating and likely to catch fire. In order to put out any turbine fires that do start at their source, turbine owners and manufacturers can install automatic fire suppression systems at common points of ignition. Firetrace’s system is designed with flexible Heat Detection Tubing, which ruptures in response to extreme heat or open flame, releasing a clean suppression agent precisely at the source of the fire before it can spread. Wind farm owners who have taken a more proactive approach to manage risk via fire suppression systems have been able to snuff out fires before they can spread throughout the turbine or into the environment. By investing in the latest technology for fire suppression, owners and operators have avoided the worst-case scenario, saving millions in operating costs.

vfd