August 30th 2013 marked the date on which all firefighter structural PPE manufactured to the NFPA standard were required to meet NFPA1971:2013. Published at the end of 2012, this is the first revision to the North American firefighter protective equipment standard since 2007 and incorporates a number of changes. The most noticeable difference will be in the appearance of fire coats. These will now have reinforcements beneath reflective trim on sleeves, or other design changes, to dissipate the stored energy effects of moderate radiant environments.
The technical evaluation behind this change acknowledges the fact that some denser materials on the clothing exterior can, under certain circumstances, accumulate and retain heat energy more than the conventional shell materials. When moisture is present it can be trapped beneath an impermeable exterior layer. This then results in earlier burn injury during clothing compression against the skin than the same clothing layers without the externally mounted materials.
Although primarily used in North America, the NFPA standard is important globally as it is used extensively by countries in South America, the Middle East and in parts of the Asia Pacific region both by municipal fire authorities and companies in the oil and gas industries.
Bristol is introducing two new NFPA ensembles to meet the revised standard based on both the Ergotech Action and XFlex designs. Both new designs will dispense with the use of arashield reinforcements on sleeves and shoulders as well as perforated trim. Fire coats will now have a 76mm wide Neoprene strip placed under the outershell at the sleeve reflective position. Only 75mm Triple Trim will be used on coats and trousers.
Head-to-toe PPE modifications have also been included. For fire helmets, the design of helmet face shields or goggles must now meet ANSI Z87.1, the standard covering general requirements for eye and face protection, and fire hoods where vented crowns are being eliminated on the grounds that the thermal protection needs to be uniform over the entire hood material area.
There are also changes for boots and gloves. For gloves, the major change is in the testing methods being introduced, whist for footwear there is a similar focus on test methods and evaluation. There is also a new slip-resistance test that is more realistic in assessing sole and heel traction and changes to the measurement methods for footwear flammability and sole heat penetration.
Commenting on the new standard and its implication for manufacturers, Ian Mitchell, Bristol’s joint MD, said, “Bristol welcomes the introduction of this revision to NFPA1971 in which the wider views of the fire industry have coalesced into a new and robust standard. The technical and operational considerations of all sides of the industry have been fully consulted within a body which draws representation in equal measure from technical experts, manufacturers and end users. Our technical team is available to consult on other aspects and implications of these changes”.