Firefighters Must Be Seen to Be Safe

During past few months, I have been getting requests for information on a new public safety vest standard, along with requests for advice on what to buy when considering traffic safety vests.

 Before we get into the new standard, let’s look at what we should be wearing on the roadway and why we need to be seen.

Last year, five fire and EMS providers were struck and killed along roadways. We need to take a few seconds when out on the roadway to get dressed to be seen. We need to make sure everyone is wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) including an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) high-visibility vest in accordance with individual department policies, as well as state and federal regulations.

As a recommended minimum, please always wear a structural fire helmet, turnout gear and a high visibility vest for the best protection.

It’s worthwhile to do a quick review of the current standards as set forth by ANSI and ISEA.

ANSI/IESA Standards

One standard adopted and published by the two organizations is the ANSI/IESA 107-2004 American National Standard for High Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear. The revised standard replaces the ANSI/IESA 107-1999 standard and provides a guide for the design, specification and use of high-visibility and reflective apparel including vests, jackets, bib/jumpsuit coveralls, trousers and harnesses.

Garments meeting ANSI/IESA 107-2004 can be worn 24 hours a day to provide users with a high level of visibility by using a combination of fluorescent and retro-reflective materials. The revised standard includes high-visibility headwear and contains additional testing procedures for knitted fabrics used for background materials.

Recently the two organizations developed a new standard – ANSI/ISEA 207-2006, the American National Standard for High-Visibility Public Safety Vests to help protect emergency responders by providing increased visibility. The standard establishes design and performance specifications and use criteria for high visibility vests used by public safety responders (EMS, fire and police).

The vest design outlined by the standard provides enhanced visibility in all lighting conditions through the combined use of fluorescent and retro-reflective materials.

Also outlined in the standard are basic requirements for such items as vest dimensions, color and materials performance. More importantly, criteria for key safety features are detailed, including easy access to belt mounted equipment, the ability for vests to be worn over uniforms, winter coats and turnout gear and the ability for vests to tear away from the body.

The standard also includes a means to identify public safety entities through the use of entity-specific color markings.

There are differences between the standards and the vests they address.

ANSI/IESA 107-2004 breaks the vests down into three classes, defined by traffic speeds and work locations. A Class I vest is designed for traffic traveling at less than 25 mph with separation traffic. A Class II vest is designed for traffic in excess of 25 mph, and when working in inclement weather and directing traffic. The Class III vest is for traffic traveling in excess of 50 mph and emergency responders.

Class I vests provide the minimum amount of required materials to differentiate the wearer from the work environment.

Class II vests provide enhanced visibility by providing additional coverage to the torso and are more conspicuous than Class I.

Class III vests offer the greatest visibility to the wearer in complex backgrounds and through a full range of body movement.

The ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 High Visibility Vests standard was created for public safety responders for several reasons. Most emergency scenes would require responders to be in Class III vests, essentially requiring sleeves and long vests. This is not compatible with structural fire fighting gear and gun or equipment belts.

The public safety vest is designed to be user friendly and provide several levels of protection with the emergency responder in mind. If you look at the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 designed vests, you will find they are not user friendly, especially since they lack a break-away feature and don’t easily fit over bulky clothing or turnout gear.

When purchasing any type of high-visibility vest, make sure it has the proper certification labeling showing that it meets the ANSI/IESA standard(s).

As a side note, a Class III rated vest compatible with the ANSI/IESA 107-1999 standard would be a Class II under the 2004 standard. You don’t need to run out and buy new vests because in-service vests that meet the ANSI/IESA 107-2004 standard are provide perfectly acceptable visibility.

As for manufacturers of public safety vests, two of them are Lakeland Industries of Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (www.lakeland.com) and Fechheimer Uniforms at www.fechheimer.com.

If you don’t have vests for your people, consider making a small investment as it could save a life. Also don’t forget there are state and federal mandates to wear these garments when operating on the roadway. These mandates could become an issue if not followed.

The bottom line is, take care of your people and let them be seen.

If you have any questions on these standards or mandates contact me through  news@firemagazine.com or take a look at www.ResponderSafety.com.

Special thanks goes to Jack Sullivan and the folks of the Emergency Responder Safety Institute for their help with this article.

As always stay safe and return to quarters.

Editor’s Note: Allen Baldwin is the manager of operations and incident response for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and a volunteer assistant chief with the Gettysburg (Pa.) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter and EMT for over 25 years, served as chief of the Chambersburg (Pa.) Fire Department and is an instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and several community colleges.

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