|Click here to view the image gallery.|
By Alan M. Petrillo
Personal protective equipment (PPE) makers are going to great lengths to ensure their structural firefighting turnout gear fits firefighters as closely as possible without limiting movement yet still provides the required protection.
It’s almost as if PPE manufacturers are making custom-tailored turnout coats and bunker pants that are made-to-order for the end users. In fact, that’s precisely what a number of manufacturers are doing.
Karen Lehtonen, vice president of innovation and product management for Lion, says Lion has always tried to offer better fitting gear for firefighters and that its premier line, the V-Force, takes the best technology from combat and professional sports clothing and applies it to turnout gear. “The result is an optimum balance of comfort, mobility, and protection,” Lehtonen says.
Lehtonen notes that Lion has traditionally done custom sizing in addition to numeric sizing, with inseam lengths and sleeves cut to order. “Our turnouts have a more athletic cut that allows for better mobility, where the gear fits more like regular clothing so it doesn’t inhibit a firefighter’s movement and contribute to stress while performing tasks,” she points out. “Most people fit into standard categories, but we customize turnout coats and pants for that guy or gal to be sure we get them into the right size gear.”
Lion uses unique pattern shaping and installs darts and pleats in specific places on its turnouts. “We use a football shape where there is less material on the inside of the elbow and more on the outside, so the elbow bends easily,” Lehtonen says. “We use a similar pattern and style for the knee, so the fabric bends more like the human body bends. To prevent hem rise, we put bellows under the sleeves that help reduce hem rise in the back of the garment.”
Abby Lehman Buzon, assistant marketing communications manager for Fire-Dex, says her company’s custom-fit turnout gear is the FX-R series, which uses an active posture design. “Our structural gear design team added a rock climbing gear designer and an extreme sports gear designer and came up with the FX-R, where the turnout gear is in the ready position,” Buzon says. “In the turnout coat, that means it’s an arms-forward design where the arms are prepositioned slightly forward and bent at the elbow. For the turnout pants, it means the pant legs are curved at the knees.”
On the FX-R’s turnout coat, Fire-Dex incorporates what it calls an Omni Dex shoulder, where the shoulder seam is moved up and inward to the natural shoulder bend point. “This is about function, where the garment doesn’t pull up when you raise your arm,” Buzon points out. “And, there’s less stress, strain, and energy exertion instead of having your coat pull up against your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) straps.”
Fire-Dex also minimizes the amount of fabric in the turnout coat to minimize strain and make the coat less likely to snag on something. “We don’t want excess fabric in our garments where the firefighter is moving around inside the turnout gear,” Buzon says. “The gear should move with him.”
Mark Dolim, national sales manager for Globe Manufacturing Co., says that Globe has been refining the ergonomic fit of its turnout gear for the past 10 years. “We’ve refined it, so now we have both a relaxed fit and athletic fit in both the turnout pants and turnout coat,” Dolim says. “Firefighters can mix and match the types in a single set of gear. Firefighters were having to fight too much material, so we created these two fits for them.”
Dolim says that with turnout coats, Globe grades every major element in each size. “For example, the neck size is proportionate to the chest size, while the arm length and diameter are proportionate to the chest size,” he notes.
For turnout pants, Globe’s G-Xtreme has more fullness over the rear, so when a firefighter lifts a leg to get into a vehicle cab, there is no binding or tightness in the pants leg. “We did the same thing with the knee where we moved seams to a different location on the inseam and outseam to create a pocket where the knee can go,” Dolim says. “With these elements, you get virtually no pant cuff rise. When a firefighter climbs a ladder, the cuff stays where it should be on the boot.”
Dolim notes that Globe makes unique patterns for both men and women. In sizing, Globe encourages its dealers to measure as if they were in an exclusive men’s clothing store. “We want the firefighter to try on several coats in different sizing styles,” he says. “They try them on, and we make alterations from there, lengthening or shortening sleeves and inseams.”
Dolim says that when turnout gear doesn’t fit correctly, it undermines a firefighter’s confidence in how hard to push himself. “If the chest is too tight or the arms don’t have the range of motion for the work that has to be done, like swinging an ax or using an extrication tool, it increases a firefighter’s anxiety and works up his core body temperature,” Dolin notes. “If the turnout gear starts out comfortable, the firefighter doesn’t have that mindset and can do what he has to do with much less stress. He doesn’t have to fight his gear.”
Michael Laton, senior product manager for body protection at Honeywell First Responder Products, says Morning Pride TAILS is Honeywell’s flagship PPE line that is built to fit each individual. “There is an underlying patterning of ergonomics in the gear, with a forward flex sleeve and a range of motion crotch,” Laton points out. “We start with a firefighter’s chest measurement, then measure arms and biceps, sleeve, torso, inseam, crotch rise, and waist. Each person is different, so the measurements are like fingerprints.”
Honeywell’s distributors and sales staff use tape measures for taking measurements, much like a tailor would do. The measurements are fed into Honeywell’s computer-aided design system, which puts out markers for where the cuts will be made on the fabric. “We do single-layer cuts instead of multiple layers of panels being cut at the same time,” Laton says. “Customization has driven us into single-layer cuts because each garment is cut differently.”
John Therrien, national sales manager for Lakeland Fire, says his company’s Stealth turnout gear that was introduced last spring features beveled cut ergonomic features for a custom fit. “It’s a more modern cut where the coat is shorter in front and longer in the back, and it has a pleated back to enhance the firefighter’s mobility,” Therrien says. “There’s also a draw cord in the back of the coat to gather up excess material for an improved SCBA fit.”
The Stealth turnout pants feature a single panel with a small bend in it from the bottom part of the leg to the knee to improve the pants’ ergonomics. “The seam is in the back of the leg and out of the way of abrasion,” Therrien notes, “and the leg form is more tubular, so it’s easier to walk and run in. The turnout pants are beveled like the coat, so they fit like street pants, with the front sitting just below the navel and having more rise in the back, which maintains two inches of overlap when the firefighter bends forward.”
Custom Not for Everyone
Hayley Fudge, vice president of business development for Lion, notes that for some firefighters, sometimes the right size is oversize. “Not everyone wants a custom fit where the gear is built to their bodies,” Fudge says. “Some people like more room and give in their turnouts, but that’s contrary to what we are trying to do, where gear should move with a firefighter and not against him.”
Lehtonen adds that custom-fit turnout gear is more difficult to make. “The more pattern pieces you have and the more sewing minutes needed means you have a more complex garment to make,” she says. “A form-fitting, custom-fit garment takes a lot of work to produce.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.