EMS and Technical Rescue Gear Fill a Protective Gap

Alan Schierenbeck, the vice president of market development for Total Fire Group/Morning Pride, has a story he relates to officials considering what to buy for emergency medical and technical rescue gear.

An ambulance was dispatched to help a man in his 50s with breathing difficulties, a common call that typically presents no real hazards beyond universal precautions – exam gloves, masks and, maybe, eye protection if the patient is coughing violently.

The responders arrived at a two-story home and found a man who had fallen from his roof and was impaled on a light post. 

 “The patient was oozing some body fluids, and they knew he was going to really be oozing when they started working on him,” Schierenbeck said.

Go Prepared

The responders needed tools, rescue gear and a lot more physical protection than exam gloves.

“That’s a perfect example of why responders should go prepared,” Schierenbeck said. “You really never know what you’re going to find.”

There are many manufacturers of specialized gear for EMS and technical rescue responders, offering protection without the bulkiness of structural firefighting gear. Total Fire Group/Morning Pride in Dayton, Ohio, is one, and Globe Manufacturing of Pittsfield, N.H., and Fire-Dex of Medina, Ohio, are two other major ones.

Bridging A Gap

Rob Freese, senior vice president of Globe, a company started by his great-grandfather, said EMS and technical rescue gear bridges a gap. 

“We realized we needed to develop clothing that offered more protection than a uniform jacket, but not be as bulky and heavy as structural firefighting gear,” he said. “I would say it has caught on enough to be categorized as a trend.”
Jeff Koledo, the northeast regional sales manager for Fire-Dex, said acceptance of EMS and technical rescue clothing is spreading as more departments recognize its advantages – lighter weight and reduced stress, while affording thermal and tearing protection. 

“It’s geographically spotty right now,” he said. “It definitely has its pockets, particularly in affluent areas.”

Those who have not bought into the concept of EMS and technical rescue clothing haven’t recognized the need, noted Freese. 

“Departments need to come to an understanding that 93 percent of the calls nationwide are not structural fires,” he said. “They are smells and bells, or EMS calls, or rescues… My great-grandfather invented firefighter clothing, but firefighters haven’t recognized yet that they need different kinds of protective apparel for different jobs.”

Globe, Morning Pride and Fire-Dex offer an array of EMS and fire rescue apparel based on the level of protection needed.

Levels Of Protection

Freese said there are three basic levels responders need to consider: protection from blood-borne pathogens; thermal protection from flash fires; and protection from cuts, punctures and abrasions.

 “It’s extremely important that EMS providers have whatever level of protection they need,” he said, “but it starts with protection with blood-borne pathogens.”

In the event of a flash fire, he said nylon and polyester garments only act as fuel for the fire and can cause serious burns. He recommends that EMS personnel exposed to fire hazards have garments with Nomex to provide thermal protection.

Jagged Metal

He said a Nomex outer shell can also provide protection from sharp surfaces, like jagged metal from a twisted wreck or concrete reinforcement bars in a collapse. 

Additionally, EMS and technical rescue personnel need protection from chemicals.

Freese said Globe started offering its LifeLine EMS rescue products in the early 1990s after a project working with fabric manufacturers PBI and W.L.Gore.
LifeLine’s lightweight gear includes a coat and pants with a Nomex outer shell offering abrasion and tear resistance as well as some flame resistance. It uses a hung liner construction where the moisture barrier is not laminated to the outer shell.

The hung moisture barrier is an important feature, according to Freese. If the external shell is punctured or ripped, he said the garment can still be used without fear of exposure to blood-borne pathogens because the interior barrier remains intact.

“You’re bound to get a little tear in the outer, and with the hung liner, you don’t have to replace the garment,” he said.

The coat is available with a removable fleece liner for cold weather protection, he said.

Globe also offers LifeLine technical rescue gear that closely resembles full turnout gear and is compliant with the National Fire Protection Association 1951 Standard on Protective Ensemble for USAR Operations. The ensemble provides protection from flash fire, common chemicals, including battery acid, gasoline and hydraulic fluid, and ARFF foam. It also provides protection from blood and body fluids. 

Heat And Stress

Freese said responders are realizing that specially designed gear has advantages beyond comfort and mobility.

“Every year we lose about 100 firefighters, and 50 percent of them are lost because of heat and stress related issues,” he said. “It’s all about providing a level of protection matched to the environment likely to be encountered.”

Globe’s LifeLine convertible apparel allows users to configure gear to meet the demands of the scene with removable liners and outer shells made of Nomex and Kevlar.

Freese said departments can save money by purchasing gear that’s suited to particular jobs. For instance, he said a typical structural firefighting ensemble costs about $1,800, while a technical rescue ensemble is about $1,000. 

Cost Difference

Total Fire Group’s Schierenbeck said the cost of technical rescue gear compared to apparel with no thermal protection is not substantial. A typical uniform type polyester outfit, which Total Fire Group offers, is about $700. Garments with protection from flash fires and thermal conditions are about $300 more, he said.

“We have a sworn duty to act,” Schierenbeck said. “We can’t just stand by and say, ‘I’m not going near that’ because an artery is leaking or there’s a chance for a flash fire. You have to go in and provide the standard of care required… You ought to have the right protection.”

Total Fire Group offers several outer shells: one made of polyester, another with a blend of Southern Mills PBO material and Kevlar, and a third with Nomex IIIA material. All of Total Fire Group’s EMS technical rescue gear offers blood-borne pathogen protection. 

“It all comes down to the level of involvement for the personnel,” Schierenbeck said. Some may stay in the cool zone, where there’s no chance for flash fires or abrasion or puncture hazards, he said, and some may be in the warm zone where there’s a chance for thermal exposures, while others will be required to work in the hot zone.

“A department’s most valuable asset is its people,” he said. “Nothing happens without people, so we ought to protect them to the level of their effectiveness.”

Fire-Dex’s Jeff Koledo said proper sizing of turnout gear is important for the most effective protection. Too often, he said, people will buy gear out of a catalog without being sized.

“It doesn’t make sense to spend $1,000 on a set of gear and buy it out of a catalog to save $75 and have it not fit right,” Koledo said. “You might end up with a coat that’s three inches too short that wouldn’t provide proper protection.” 

Fire-Dex distributors and dealers, like many other PPE representatives, are trained to measure garments for the particular wearer and travel to departments to fit responders for custom garments.

Fire-Dex has two styles of EMS apparel, Para-Dex CROSSTECH, which is fire resistant and compliant with the NFPA 1999 EMS clothing standard, and Para-Dex Stead-Air, a lighter weight EMS coat and pant set offered as an alternative to the 

CROSSTECH garments.

Fire Dex also has one-piece coverall garments, which the company says offer comfort and mobility in addition to personal protection with a Nomex outer shell.

Moving up the protective apparel spectrum, Fire-Dex has a line it calls Para-Dex Emergency Response apparel, which consists of a pant and coat set that’s NFPA 1999 compliant. It has a Nomex outer shell for flame resistance and a CROSSTECH EMS barrier to prevent the entry of blood-borne pathogens and moisture.

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