NFPA Committees Propose Changes To PPE Standards

Two National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) committees were expected to issue proposed changes in December to NFPA personal protective equipment (PPE) standards that deal with firefighting gloves and footwear and ropes and harnesses used for rescue and escape.


Dave Trebisacci, NFPA senior fire protection specialist, said the changes are being proposed as part of a normal five-year revision cycle to keep up with technological advances and innovations that affect firefighting and special operations gear. He is the NFPA staff liaison to the Technical Committee for Structural and Proximity Firefighting Protective Clothing and Equipment and the Technical Committee on Special Operations Protective Clothing and Equipment.


The structural and proximity clothing committee deals with the NFPA 1971 standard covering firefighting gear and the NFPA 1871 standard for its care and maintenance.


The special operations committee handles the NFPA 1983 standard on ropes and harness, the NFPA 1951 standard on technical rescue, the NFPA 1952 standard on surface water operations and the NFPA 1975 standard on station wear.


The proposed changes to the NFPA 1971, 1871, 1983 and 1951 standards were scheduled to be posted on the NFPA Web site late in December.


“The public has an opportunity to review the proposed changes and submit comments on them as they appear,” Trebisacci said. “They also can look at a preprint of how the changed standard would look, even though the changes are not yet carved in stone, but with the advantages of viewing a clean document with the proposed changes in it to compare to the existing standard.”


Karen Lehtonen, director of PSG products for Lion Apparel and a member of both committees, noted that NFPA standards are consensus standards, not manufacturer standards.


“The committee solicits proposals from the general public who have questions or concerns about something that might be revised in the standard,” she said. “Sometimes committee members submit proposals, some come from special interest groups, others from manufacturers, and still others from testing and evaluation groups.”


Lehtonen pointed out that the committees prefer to get proposals from firefighters, “because they are the ones who have to use the gear.”


Trebisacci said the next step in the revision process is to solicit public comments on the proposed changes. The comments must be submitted to NFPA by March 4, 2011.


“Then the committees meet and discuss the comments received,” he said. “If all goes well, those comments are published again for review. If there are no objections, the revised standards get presented to the [NFPA] Standards Council for its approval.”


Once a revised standard is approved and published, it supersedes the previous edition and becomes the operative standard.


Lehtonen identified some of the areas targeted for revision.


“We’re looking at glove dexterity and how to better evaluate gloves so they perform better in the field while still offering adequate thermal protection,” she said. “We’re also looking at testing garments in the area of stored energy. Gear currently is very good at protecting against flashovers, but we’re looking at testing for low heat, long duration types of exposures.”


She said footwear is being re-evaluated and that a proposed revision might deal with testing and measuring the heat resistance of footwear.


As special operations have become more important, the special ops standards have become more refined.


“Gloves are a big area because they must fit for use, and people shouldn’t have to take them off to do a job in special operations,” Lehtonen said.


The fire service can expect some big changes to the NFPA 1983 standard on ropes and harnesses, she said.


“We’re expanding the scope to cover more products, responding to some of the needs brought to the committee by end users,” she said. “Firefighters need more options in terms of escape systems and ropes, especially in the requirements for escape ropes.”


She noted that firefighters use the NFPA 1983 standard for personal escape, while others in the fire service use the standard for rescue products. As an example, she cited the difference in using a rope for part of a personal escape system versus using a rope to belay or lower a rescue basket.


“The two situations have completely different needs,” she pointed out, “and we’re bearing down on identifying this in the standard where there is one set of requirements for rescue using baskets and other equipment and another set of requirements for firefighters using ropes, belts, harnesses and associated hardware for personal rescue.”


In the past, she said, departments may have pieced together equipment to get what they needed because there was no requirement in the standard for how escape system elements related to each other. “Now,” she said, “there will be more of a focus on how that equipment works together.”


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