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Fire conditions and extrication events that firefighters arrive at today are very different from the conditions faced years ago. According to research at Underwriter Laboratories (UL), modern homes contain larger quantities of petroleum-based products and plastics that burn faster and hotter versus traditional and more natural materials. Rapid fire spread The result is more rapid and hotter fire growth with exponential increases in heat generation, smoke production and toxicity. Faster flashover and fire propagation, coupled with shorter times to collapse and shorter resident escape times, have changed what firefighters encounter in the average fire and its increased risk to their crews. On the other side, extrication calls are also on the rise, with multiple risks and an ever-present chance for fire, like with newer electric vehicles. New risks call for new and improved stationwear When the call comes in, firefighters rely on their turnout gear (TOG) for protection When the call comes in, firefighters rely on their turnout gear (TOG) for protection, but serious burn injury can occur right through the TOG. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) conducted a study that concluded stationwear contributes to overall thermal protection. However, depending upon the stationwear’s fiber content and material fabrication, it may also contribute to possible burn injuries. “Our goal at DuPont is to increase firefighters’ safety and we have dedicated years of study to ensuring what they are wearing under their turnout gear doesn’t contribute to more severe injury, as is the case with polyester and to a lesser degree, cotton,” said Jeff Fackler, North American Business Development Director for DuPont. Facing multiple thermal hazards As firefighters face multiple thermal hazards, they rely on the protective properties of their uniform to keep them safe. NFPA notes that the second leading cause of firefighter injuries in the United States is exposure to heat and smoke. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of reporting data that would help explain the severity, type and specific contributing factors, such as the clothing worn underneath the structural firefighting ensemble. Many authorities leave the choice up to the firefighters to determine what stationwear ensemble is to be worn underneath the structural turnout suit. According to the NFPA, the problem with this approach is the lack of knowledge about the risks of wearing non-certified garments, such as synthetics, and the lack of information focusing on factors that contribute to burn injuries. “We are working with DuPont to educate ourselves on how certified performance garments can help reduce risk of further injury during a fire or extrication,” said Spotsylvania, Virginia Fire Deputy Chief of Support Services, Jason Irby, adding “Stationwear is the last line of defense and the evidence is hard to ignore.” New Research in Preventing Injuries DuPont has worked to add to the level of research and discussion around how turnout gear and stationwear can help protect firefighters. DuPont scientists created Thermo-Man, a life-size manikin with 122 thermal sensors used to predict level, extent and location of potential burns of whole garments in simulated flame exposures. The goal is to test material selection and garment designs, and balance protection, mobility and heat stress. “What we found was that fire will exploit any gaps in turnout gear that may be created as the firefighter bends, climbs and crawls during the firefight,” said Jeff Fackler, adding “As a result, serious burn injury can occur right through the turnout gear, and the role of flame-resistant stationwear is to reduce the severity of that injury. In short, what you wear underneath your gear really does matter.” Stationwear made from Thermo-Man and Nomex Findings showed that garments made with Nomex will not melt, drip or support combustion, compared to 100% cotton DuPont tested stationwear garments using Thermo-Man to analyze and predict the levels of thermal protection that it provides. Stationwear made with Nomex brand fiber is compliant with NFPA 1975. Findings showed that garments made with Nomex will not melt, drip or support combustion, compared to 100% cotton, and Nomex helps reduce the predicted burn injury by 50%, when exposed to a three-second flame. Firefighters carry, pull, lug and climb with hundreds of pounds of hoses, ladders and other heavy gear. They have to crawl, squat, roll and duck in split-second decisions about their safety. More and more, they face challenges in extrication situations, where the chance of fire is high. Occupational Athletes Just like professional athletes, their gear has to be both comfortable and performance-based to allow freedom of movement, breathability and injury prevention. Associate Professor at the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences & Technology at UW-Milwaukee Dr. Kyle Ebersole has been studying the unique physical demands of firefighters for over a decade. “Firefighters and first responders are occupational athletes,” explains Kyle Ebersole, adding “Their job has some extraordinary physical and psychological demands.” Performance-enhancing sportswear Performance-enhancing sportswear like you see in the NFL or the Olympics is relatively new to the sports world. However, DuPont has been working on performance fibers for decades that help first responders perform at their best and help reduce the risk of injury. Stationwear made with Nomex fiber cools more effectively due to lower moisture pickup and evaporative resistance. The air permeability helps enable more heat and moisture vapor transmission and increases both cooling and breathability. Enhanced comfort and protection for firefighters This means more comfort and protection to firefighters in wildfire situations, structural rescue and vehicle rescue This means more comfort and protection to firefighters in wildfire situations, structural rescue and vehicle rescue situations. They can fight the fight longer with better performance and less risk of exhaustion. In the sports world, it’s well known that what you wear has a major influence on how your body and muscles move during various levels of activity. For athletes and firefighters alike, “The reality is if you become injured, you can’t work,” said Chief Jason Irby, adding “If I can help my team by providing stationwear that reduces thermal heat, allows them more time to fight a fire or work on getting someone out of a vehicle and it helps prevent burns closest to the skin, it makes total sense.” Technical advances and smart fabrics Technical advances and smart fabrics are making stationwear more comfortable and affordable, while allowing for better body heat regulation and adding protection against injury – helping give extra peace of mind to first responders. “They shouldn’t have to worry if their stationwear and gear is going to protect them,” said Jeff Fackler, adding “And with stationwear made with Nomex, they don’t have to.”
The importance of firefighter health has received increased media attention in recent times, and rightly so. Following Covid-19 more emphasis is now being placed on hygiene and disinfection, which I believe will be one positive outcome of this pandemic. A significant cultural change has been a long time coming to take us away from firefighters wearing dirty kit as a badge of honor that proves their hard work and value, to understanding that clean and well maintained kit supported by detailed and robust hygiene processes that mitigate every contact with contaminants are essential. Firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens Prior to Covid-19, the media were also reporting more regularly on the very real issue of firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens, an issue when embedded in equipment and absorbed. Cancer has been highlighted in some scientific reports to be the leading cause of death among firefighters, with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) reporting that cancer caused nearly two out of three (61%) firefighter line-of-duty deaths between 2002 and 2017. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) also found that in the US, firefighters had a 14 percent higher chance of dying of cancer compared to the general population. The results of these reports need to be underpinned by robust medical research to reflect the landscape, culture, current standards and operational practices for Fire Services in the UK. Cancer caused nearly two out of three (61%) firefighter line-of-duty deaths between 2002 and 2017 While these shocking statistics are relatively well known, not enough has been done to force a change. Manufacturers of medical and safety technology products have a responsibility to innovate solutions that support change. To this end, Dräger’s Health for the Firefighter campaign complements our training programmes and communicates the importance of detailed hygiene processes; from the handling and storage of masks and breathing apparatus equipment through to the subsequent cleaning of the kit after an incident has occurred. Training is the first and crucial step in guiding a cultural shift, and ultimately protecting the health and well-being of our firefighters. Using technology, research and innovation It’s important that training programmes reflect the fact that fire services are the experts – they have the experience and understand what solutions are practical. It is therefore our role to use technology, research and innovation to ensure we work together as partners with applied training helping to create a robust consistency in approach as well as providing a safe environment to train. Dräger’s training is typically split into three areas: Training systems - these encompass mobile or fixed training facilities that enable state-of-the-art training so firefighters can experience real fires or extrication scenarios in a safe environment including compartment fire behavior training (CFBT). At Dräger they include a vast portfolio of potential fire and rescue environments, including petrochemical plants, hospitals, schools, high-rise buildings, vehicles, aircraft and subway stations; Technical training - providing comprehensive know-how on the maintenance and repair of equipment – from mechanical and electronic components through to cleaning and disinfection; Fitness training – providing equipment to help ensure that firefighters are prepared for the physical challenges that come with the job and can be tested and monitored to improve their safety. The science and behavior of a fire and its contaminants Training has come a long way from when it centred simply around exposure to hot temperatures often referred to as ‘burn to learn’. It is now about much more than protecting a firefighter from becoming burnt, but rather teaching the science and behavior of a fire and its contaminants, not only to support fire and rescue operations, but also to protect the firefighter’s own health. While Covid-19 is driving improvements in this regard, what is more difficult is helping fire services to realize that technical training on the cleaning and hygiene processes related to kit is just as important to firefighter health. Consistent and robust hygiene processes are also about technology. While manual cleaning of equipment is still generally the norm, there are many fire services that are moving towards mechanical washing systems, which provide complete consistency in washing temperatures, the amount of detergent used, speed and temperature of drying – which can all work together to disinfect contaminants and to protect the longevity of the kit. Training and support around these systems encompasses the entire purchasing and use life cycle; from helping to build business cases for procurement and logistical installation support, to advice on the exact processes a firefighter should take when leaving a scene and returning to the station. Support also encompasses the ongoing maintenance of equipment and the quantity of stock required. An international look at hygiene and infection control Consistent and robust hygiene processes are also about technology Despite such advances, the UK is still behind other countries in terms of our hygiene and infection control practices. Netherlands and Sweden, for example, are two European countries leading the way in shifting the mindset and using mechanical washing equipment supported by improved logistics for managing and tracking PPE and RPE more widely. For these countries, stringent hygiene practices are commonplace and are not just about fighting cancer or the current pandemic, but also about protecting firefighters and support staff from more day-to-day illnesses such as flu, common colds, cold sores and other communicable illnesses. Within Dräger, my role includes advising on these best-practice examples and new equipment technologies – working with our UK-based manufacturing facility and R&D departments to ensure they are designed with the firefighter in mind, and working with Fire Services, Government and other key stakeholders to help drive improvements to further protect our crews. Having manufactured advanced technology solutions for the Fire Services for more than 115 years, Dräger has the experience and technological know-how to support this necessary change in how we think about equipment, its cleaning, and ultimately how to apply technology and training to make our firefighters safer.
Firefighting is hot, hazardous, and let's face it, grueling work. But believe it or not, the job today has become even more challenging as firefighters must deal with increased heat loads, toxic substances and other physical challenges that make structural firefighting one of the most demanding professions on the planet. So, needless to say, being well-trained, physically fit, and safely equipped can make all the difference in the world. Evolving Technology The fact is, as heat loads and toxicity exposure risks increase due to modern synthetic construction, the ways in which fires are fought are changing as well. These shifts, combined with the revolution that’s taking place in firefighter protection technology, have led to new and exciting designs in firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE) offerings. Technology is providing firefighters with respiratory protection “systems” is which respiratory protection itself is just one of many benefits Take the tried and true SCBA for instance. Since the invention of the first breathing apparatus in the late 1910s, their primary function has been air delivery. But today, technology is providing firefighters with respiratory protection “systems” is which respiratory protection itself is just one of many benefits. Revolution Of Life-Changing Technology Consider this: the effects of technology today impact virtually every aspect of modern life. And the same is true for the fire service, as software, thermal imaging, and wireless communications capabilities become more mainstream on the fireground. In response to these new capabilities, the consensus organizations responsible for PPE performance standards (i.e. NFPA and EN) have increased standards by mandating certain electronic components for each firefighter. But performance of these components can be limited by the fact that only so many “parts” can be attached to an SCBA, or because some capabilities are simply out of reach from a budget perspective. Over time, these limitations create long-term implications when it comes to SCBA choice, because the breathing apparatus purchased today may have to be in use for the next 15 years or more. So, what are firefighters to do? Firefighters should view their SCBA as the “foundation” of a safety system that equips firefighters with the many new safety capabilities that technology offers—now and in the future It’s More Than Air Delivery Missed opportunities for more timely safety improvements – which keep up with the pace of technology – are rooted in a false assumption that all SCBA are comprised of separate, mechanical components – and that the SCBA function is only about respiratory protection. But air-delivery is not the issue because every SCBA meets the standards, and every SCBA delivers air well. Further, looking at the SCBA merely as a separate component for air diminishes its potential to serve as a revolutionary safety technology “platform.” Safety As A System Firefighters need more than the minimum performance from breathing apparatus To keep pace with the rapid improvements in firefighter safety, firefighters need more than the minimum performance from breathing apparatus. Instead, they should view their SCBA as the “foundation” of a safety system that equips firefighters with the many new safety capabilities that technology offers—now and in the future. I’m talking specifically about platform-type products that can be easily updated with the latest technology, as soon as it becomes available, to help protect them when their lives are on the line. Key Questions To Consider When Looking For An SCBA Include: Does the SCBA have features that allow you to see, hear, and react quickly to changing situations? Can the SCBA sizing be customized to best fit each firefighter? How many total batteries are needed for the SCBA, and how does that affect long-term costs? How well does it integrate with other systems, such as communication devices, portable instruments, etc.? Does the SCBA provide you, your team, and incident command with critical information to make effective, life-saving decisions? Can the SCBA be programmed to meet your standard operating procedures, such as audible and visual alarms at 50% remaining pressure? Is the facepiece reducing or adding to overall SCBA cost and complexity? How easily can the SCBA be updated to meet changing standards? How easily can integrated accessories or features, such as thermal imaging, be added as they are developed in the future? At MSA, we develop technologically-advanced safety equipment designed to help meet today's changing fireground dynamics. We’re committed to setting the pace for safety with continuous improvements and innovations in PPE. For today. For tomorrow. For the future.
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