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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. 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. 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 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 Firefighter Cancer Support Network, Preventing Cancer in the Fire Service National Fire Protection Association, Firefighters and Cancer NFPA Journal, Fast Track: Some of the national efforts underway to fight cancer in the fire service; Roman, Jesse; 2017
Airport firefighters operate very differently to their municipal fire and rescue colleagues For the thousands of firefighters covering over 80 major commercial airports throughout Europe, life is very different from that experienced by their municipal fire and rescue service colleagues. The differences range from the type of regime they experience to the types of emergency they are called upon to deal with on a daily basis. Richard Cranham, Business Development Manager at Bristol Uniforms Ltd, explains more. Airports with scheduled passenger services range from the largest international airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick, Paris, Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt, to some of the smallest, which include those serving smaller communities in Scandinavia and the Highlands & Islands Airports group in Scotland with 10 locations spread across some of the most inaccessible parts of the country. BAA (formerly The British Airports Authority) is the largest airport operator in the UK with 7 locations and employing over 450 firefighters at their sites at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. An airport firefighter's typical day Unlike their municipal counterparts, airport firefighters are required to cover all types of emergencies within the airport boundaries with many of the incidents unrelated to aircraft accidents or fires. Major aircraft accidents are very rare thanks to strict safety regulations and major improvements in aircraft design and build. Airport firefighters must cover all emergencies within airport boundaries - including incidents unrelated to aircraft accidents or fires In many locations the fire services work closely with the ambulance and other emergency services dealing with all types of accidents including traffic incidents, vehicle fires, and fire alarms across the sites as well as being placed on standby whenever a pilot alerts traffic control to any type of malfunction which could present a safety hazard on landing. The most frequent incidents affecting jet aircraft involve overheating of undercarriages, wheels, tyres and brakes as well as engine problems, which although uncommon, nevertheless require putting into action major emergency standby routines. Station Officer at Bristol International Airport, Rich Lynn, who has 48 firefighters on station explained that his team is required to cover all emergencies on site including those involving buildings, vehicles and aircraft-related incidents. "We provide emergency cover for all 11 buildings on the airport site as well as dealing with aircraft-related emergencies. Although we have very few aircraft fires the main potential areas for fire are overheating sub-assemblies, wheels and brakes and any ruptures in hydraulic lines which work at high pressure and could easily cause a fire in contact with hot metal. Carbon fibre braking systems and fans on wheels on modern aircraft have greatly reduced the fire hazard." A plane coming in to land at Schiphol airport, Amsterdam Chief Fire Officer at Schiphol Airport, Michel Wendel, explained that his firefighters are called upon to deal not only with aviation related incidents, but many others in and around the Schiphol area which are more closely related to normal fire duty callouts. On average there are in the region of 50 aviation related incidents annually with several hundred other callouts for various fire and other related hazards during the year around the large Schiphol site. Although the airport only has one terminal building, this is split into three large departure halls serving the 6 runways which range in length from over 2km to 3.8km. The most recent runway to be built was completed in 2003 and there are already plans to add a seventh in the near future. Schiphol is the world's lowest major airport being 3 metres below sea level. Schiphol has a good air traffic accident record. The last major fire was in October 2005 and was non-aviation related. A fire broke out at the airport's detention centre, killing 11 people and injuring 15. The complex was holding 350 people at the time of the incident. The last aviation accident occurred over 12 years ago when a Saab 340 operated by KLM Cityhopper returned to Schiphol because the crew mistakenly believed that the engine suffered from low oil pressure because of a faulty warning light. On final approach, at a height of 90 feet, the plane stalled and hit the ground. Of the twenty-four people on board, three were killed including the captain. Nine others were seriously injured. Fires caused by burning aviation fuel require special skills - training is a regular part of the airport firefighter's working life Airport firefighter training Even though the call to action to fight fires may come infrequently, the special characteristics of hot fires caused by burning aviation fuel need special skills. Training is a regular and frequent part of the firefighter's working life. At Schiphol, training is carried out on a daily basis. There are 125 full time firefighters on station who all work shifts of 3 teams over 24 hours. The size of the airport complex is such that the firefighters operate out of 3 fire stations - Rijk, Sloten and Vijfhuizen - which are located around the site. A Manchester airport firefighter training in the cab of a plane Michel Wendel gave details saying, "Firefighter training is carried out at the main station, Sloten, on a daily basis. Firefighters are on rotational duty at Sloten and their training is undertaken when they are on main station duty. Normally training sessions last about 4 hours. A range of training is carried out including simulated fire fighting on a Boeing 747 test rig with a computer-controlled gas fire." Gerard Montgomery, Senior Airport Fire Officer at Gatwick, has 80 firefighters on location including himself and a deputy. His team is responsible for dealing with all site emergencies and shares daytime callouts with the ambulance service. With responding to all fire alarms and traffic accidents at Gatwick his crew handle around 2,500 callouts annually. On training Gerard explained, "We carry out training on a weekly basis on an LPG Boeing 747 aircraft simulator. This would involve a number of fire scenarios and also provides training for breathing apparatus, hose management and ladder work. We are also acquiring a fire behaviour simulator which will provide carbonaceous fire scenarios. The new unit was installed in the summer of 2006." Firefighter clothing: emphasis on lighter weight, wearer comfort Most, if not all, airports use a selection procedure for purchasing firefighter Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which routinely involves trialling samples of kit from several manufacturers. The alternatives are inspected and supplied to firefighters to carry out wearer trials. Selection is based on a number of criteria including wearer comfort, durability, price, sizing and availability of stock. A number of airport fire teams are being, or have been, re-equipped over the past 2-3 years giving them the opportunity to take advantage of the new lighter weight firefighter clothing being introduced to the market which provide greater wearer comfort and reduce heat stress associated with prolonged periods of wear. There is also growing interest in adopting managed care services as a means of providing regular inspection, washing and repair. Richard Cranham - Business Development Manager, Bristol Uniforms Ltd
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new health challenges for firefighters, but it is far from the first major health concern in the fire service. For example, the risk of various cancers is up to twice as high among firefighters, and cancer causes 61 percent of line-of-duty deaths for firefighters. There are other health and safety concerns, too, from nutrition and fitness to vehicle safety and seat belt usage, from wellness to stress and trauma (and consequent issues of addiction). Supporting fire services Cultural issues are a driving force in managing the gamut of health and safety concerns for firefighters. Changing the mindset of firefighters about safety issues is critical to meaningful progress. It starts with awareness. COVID-19 may be the newest and most recent health concern, and addressing it has been a high priority. However, even long-term and well-known health threats in the fire service are not being adequately addressed. Dräger found that some 84% of respondents admitted they were concerned about the risk of cancer Medical and safety technology provider Dräger, based in Lübeck, Germany, has launched a ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign to raise awareness and to support fire services in driving the necessary cultural changes to protect firefighter health. In a survey of United Kingdom firefighters, Dräger found that some 84% of respondents admitted they were concerned about the risk of cancer, which can be caused by embedded carcinogens in any equipment that can be absorbed by men and women using it. Robust hygiene processes “The COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing fears over cancer, have highlighted the critical importance of hygiene, and a significant cultural change is required,” says Brian Hesler, a consultant and specialist advisor at Dräger Safety UK and a former chief fire officer. “We need to move away from firefighters wearing dirty kit like a badge of honor that proves their hard work and value, to understand that clean and well-maintained kit supported by detailed and robust hygiene processes are essential to mitigate every contact with contaminants.” Dräger’s Health for the Firefighter campaign will support the fire services in communicating and providing training on the importance of detailed hygiene processes, from handling and storage of masks and breathing apparatus (BA) equipment through to the subsequent cleaning of the kit after an incident has occurred. Enabling fire services Manual cleaning of equipment is still generally the norm within UK fire services. In the Dräger survey, 80% agreed that a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is more emphasis on cleaning equipment and hygiene control, although only 23% said the pandemic significantly changes their approach to cleaning equipment. Dräger has launched solutions for cleaning breathing apparatus, respiratory masks and PPE equipment Consistency is often a problem with manual cleaning, and Dräger has launched solutions for cleaning breathing apparatus, respiratory masks and PPE equipment that reduce the risk of carcinogen contamination within emergency teams. The equipment is provided in partnership with Harstra Instruments, a Dutch manufacturer of cleaning and drying equipment. The Dräger package of solutions comprises cleaning products, logistical support and consultancy services to enable fire services to mitigate firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens. Equipment handling operations Washing machines clean using high-pressure water, drying cabinets are available in various shapes and sizes, and testing facilities ensure products are decontaminated. “Employers owe their employees a duty of care and are therefore looking to provide additional protection during training, post-incident and in day-to-day equipment handling operations,” says Andy Taylor, UK Marketing Manager for Engineered Solutions at Dräger. Cleaning equipment is just one of many ways fire departments can address the health challenges for firefighters. Departments depend on regulations and policies designed to ensure the highest degrees of personal health and safety. For departments, prevention and reduction of accidents, injuries and occupational illnesses should be a way of life. The ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign can serve as a reminder of the importance of creating a culture of good health for firefighters.
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.
Dräger has launched a range of solutions for cleaning breathing apparatus, respiratory masks and PPE equipment that reduce the risk of carcinogen contamination within emergency teams as part of its Health for the Firefighter campaign. Dräger have worked in partnership with Harstra instruments, a Dutch manufacturer of cleaning and drying equipment. The launch follows a study undertaken by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which demonstrated a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) worn and evaluated as fully operational will be contaminated within 25 minutes of use in firefighting situations. Potential hazards for personnel Currently, most masks and SCBA are cleaned by hand, which is a lengthy and inconsistent process. It can also pose potential hazards for personnel. Dräger has therefore developed a package of solutions comprising of cleaning products, logistical support and consultancy services that enable fire services to mitigate firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens through every step of attending an incident. They include: simple-to-use washing machines that clean using high pressure water; drying cabinets in various shapes and sizes to accommodate each fire service’s space and equipment; and testing facilities to ensure products are decontaminated before going back into operation. Providing additional protection The final part of the new solution is an improved logistic and workshop capability to quarantine contaminated kit The final part of the new solution is an improved logistic and workshop capability to quarantine contaminated kit, clean it, and then replenish with sanitized PPE to maintain operational capability. Dräger can design and engineer new infrastructure or work within an existing facility to provide optimum protection and cleaning of equipment. UK marketing manager for Engineered Solutions at Dräger, Andy Taylor said it is now well known that job-related exposures to carcinogens increases the risk of illnesses such as cancer: “Employers owe their employees a duty of care and are therefore looking to provide additional protection during training, post incident and in day-to-day equipment handling operations.” Minimizing the risk of contamination “A new standard operating procedure, which incorporates comprehensive training, must be established by the Fire and Rescue Service including comprehensive training for emergency teams on how to decontaminate themselves following an incident in which exposure was likely.” “Standardizing processes not only minimize the risk of contamination for workshop personnel, but also reduce the exposure of carcinogenic substances for the wearer. The consistency of cleaning also extends the lifetime of PPE.” Within Harstra’s product portfolio are a range of washing and drying solutions. These include The Wash4 and Wash6DR models which can accommodate between four and six SCBA respectively, including cylinders and up to 18 breathing masks. Best possible protection Air Cylinders refilled and the SCBA is ready for operations all using Dräger workshop equipment The Wash4 model provides the user with a choice of cleaning time‘s from 5 minutes wash, 10 minutes or the recommended 22 minutes under pressure. The Wash6DR washes at the same intervals, but without the need for Compressed Air cylinders, instead taking pressure from a high powered air external source. Essential to the process is the requirement that cleaned equipment is dried correctly in a drying cabinet or drying room to remove moisture. The Dräger portfolio is configurable and allows easy transfer of equipment using compatible baskets in the cleaning and drying cycle, for example the Wash9 facemask washer and the M18/45 cabinets. Once these have been clean and dried they can then be checked and tested, Air Cylinders refilled and the SCBA is ready for operations all using Dräger workshop equipment. Whatever the risk, Dräger has ‘Technology for Life’ solutions to ensure employers provide the best possible protection and employees return home at the end of each shift as safely as possible.
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