Designing Turnout Gear For Today’s New Threats

A hood that tucks into the coat collar was added to be CBRN compliant.
To overcome one of the biggest challenges presented to CBRN compliance, a hood that tucks into the coat collar was added to help create a seal between the wearer’s head, neck and SCBA facepiece.
Bunker pants must have an extension above the waist with an attached belt and an elasticized back.
To meet new National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protection, bunker pants must have an extension above the waist with a permanently attached waist belt and an elasticized back. The feature provides a seal when the SCBA waist strap is deployed.
A concern for turnout gear manufacturers was to make the ensemble comfortable.
A primary concern for turnout gear manufacturers seeking compliance with the NFPA CBRN standard was to make the ensemble comfortable.

All firefighters have turnout gear. It’s the protective ensemble (a National Fire Protection Association term) used for responses to fire and other calls.

But, what about those fire calls, or calls for assistance, that turn out to be terrorist acts? What happens when the incident involves chemical or biological agents and firefighters do not realize the situation they’re in until they are already exposed?

In the post 9-11 era, the fire service has realized that firefighters will be responding to incidents that pose hazards in addition to fire.

What exactly are the threats? According to the FBI, they are: explosives, fire bombs and guns, biological toxins, industrial chemicals, biological/pathogens, radioisotopes, chemical and nuclear weapons.

CBRN In The Forefront

Hence the term, CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear), has been at the forefront of PPE. One disclaimer must be made: Although the term nuclear is used, there is really no firefighter protection against nuclear weapons.

Before turnout gear is discussed, keep in mind that beginning in February 2007, all SCBA will be designed and certified to protect against CBRN, and hazmat suit requirements have been rewritten to meet the present day challenges.

Calling In The Hazmat Team

Historically, fire departments have had sufficient knowledge to know when to call in a hazmat team. In today’s world, however, responders to almost any emergency incident may not know until after the fact. Since turnout gear is the preferred protective ensemble, it makes sense that the gear be designed to also provide protection against CBRN incidents.

Effective in February, fire departments can purchase CBRN designed and certified turnout gear. The CBRN protection is an option in the 2007 revision of NFPA 1971-Standard for Protective Ensemble for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. Fire Departments will not be required to purchase CBRN compliant turnout gear as they will CBRN self contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs), but if they want the protection, there are now minimum requirements that must be met.

All fire departments should make a threat assessment to determine if CBRN is right for them. In making this threat assessment, fire departments should keep in mind the CBRN protection benefits to incident responses that may have threats not caused by terrorism, such as meth labs and transportation incidents.

In late 2003, the Department of Homeland Security and the Technical Support Working Group awarded two CBRN turnout gear development contracts. One contract was awarded to N.C. State University (NCSU) and the other to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

Both projects have developed products that comply with both NFPA 1971 and NFPA 1994 (Class 2 with improved durability) Standard for Protective Ensembles for First Responders to CBRN Terrorism Incidents. The approach and product of the NCSU initiative will be discussed in this article.

Deployable Protection

The NCSU contract, under the direction of Dr. Roger Barker and the NCSU Textile Protection and Comfort Center (TPAC) in the College of Textiles, partnered with Dupont and Globe Manufacturing to develop a design that firefighters can “deploy” CBRN protection once they realize they are in a CBRN environment.

The first step was to get firefighter input from across the country. The feedback they received was clear and precise – give us CBRN protection in turnout gear without adding weight,  or decreasing flexibility and breathability. In other words, don’t modify the gear in a way that causes problems in day to day firefighting activities.

Built-in CBRN Protection

The NCSU product is a protection system built into the turnout gear making it look like regular turnout gear. It appears to meet the firefighters’ desire that it be used as regular turnout gear without any compromise to structural firefighting protection or wearer comfort.

Their design, manufactured by Globe, is called CB-Ready. It is built primarily around the same design features as their popular G-Xtreme and Cairns REAXTION product lines.

In addition to barrier protection, one of the biggest challenges for CBRN compliance is providing interface area protection, which are the head/neck, waist, wrist, lower leg and ankles. The CB-Ready gear features a hood that tucks away into the coat collar. The other interface areas are sealed by changes in design and drawstrings to cinch the clothing tight against the body.

The project will be introducing new thermal and moisture barriers to the market. The turnout coat is actually a double jacket system that zips together. The outer shell is one jacket and the thermal and moisture barrier comprise the inner jacket.

Vapor, Liquid Barriers

So far, the companies are not releasing many product details. There will be a new moisture barrier zippers used in the project that have vapor and liquid barrier protection. Because the NFPA technical committee was concerned about the durability of turnout gear with CBRN protection, additional stringent durability tests were added.

The turnout pants feature an extension above the waist with a permanently attached waist belt and an elasticized back. This feature provides a seal when the SCBA waist strap is deployed. The moisture barrier is sewn directly to the outer shell around the pants’ perimeter (waist, cuffs and fly) to eliminate protection gaps. The pants also feature a boot collar to provide a seal while the boot is flexed and the torso is bent.

Testing Required

All ensemble elements (except for the helmet) must be tested as a complete unit for CBRN protection. This includes the hood, coat, pants, gloves, footwear, and SCBA facepiece. This is important because fire departments using the CBRN option will NOT be able to use gloves or boots unless they are certified as part of the CB-Ready system. Helmets are not considered part of the CBRN protection.

In the next issue, we will review the IAFF Project Heroes approach with Total Fire Group/Morning Pride Manufacturing as the garment producer.

And, as a reminder, please keep in mind  the CBRN requirements are an option and not required for all turnout gear.

Editor’s Note: Robert Tutterow, who has nearly 30 years in the fire service, is Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department’s health and safety officer. He is a member of NFPA’s technical committees on structural fire fighting protective clothing and equipment as a member of the correlating committee and is a member of the fire apparatus committeee, serving as the chairperson of the group’s safety task force.

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