NFPA standard for technical rescue gear fills an important gap.
NFPA Updates Standards Fo – New National Fire Protection Assocation (NFPA) standard for technical rescue gear, which takes effect this year, fills an important gap in establishing requirements for the ensembles used by Urban Search and Rescue teams for the range of hazards encountered during those operations. (Total Fire Group Photo)
Rescue gear is designed to withstand thermal conditions of a flash fire that can occur with the ignition of pockets of trapped flammable vapor in debris
Rescue gear is designed to withstand thermal conditions of a flash fire that can occur with the ignition of pockets of trapped flammable vapor in debris, or pools of fuel from a vehicle. They are not designed for the sustained fire exposure experienced at a structural fire, but are light-weight and comfortable for long wearing periods. (Total Fire Group Photo)

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1951 standard originally released in 2001, covered protective clothing and equipment used in urban search and rescue incidents including victim search, rescue and body recovery.

It also covered garments used for site stabilization during operations, such as building and structural collapse, victim extrication from wrecked vehicles, confined space entry, rope rescue, and trench and cave-in rescue.

The standard filled an important gap in establishing requirements for the ensembles of garments, helmets, gloves, and footwear needed by Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams for the hazards involved in these operations.

The standard did not address personal protective equipment for wilderness, swift water or other non-urban settings. The clothing system defined by the standard could, however, be applied in a range of fire service operations where structural firefighting protective clothing proved to be in excess of emergency hazards.

As with other NFPA standards, NFPA 1951 has been subjected to periodic revision to address how first responder needs and clothing offerings have changed.

In the new 2007 edition, the title of NFPA 1951 has been modified to “Protective Ensemble for Technical Rescue Incidents.” This change accounts for broader application of these clothing ensembles.

The standard has been reorganized into three separate types of ensemble technical rescue utility: technical rescue utility; rescue and recovery; and chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear (CBRN) applications.

Technical rescue utility ensembles have design and performance criteria for technical rescue operations where there are no liquid hazards, such as blood/body fluids or liquid chemical splashes.

These operations would include activities such as operating vehicles or physical work at emergency sites where contact with victims or exposure to any hazardous materials would not be expected.

Rescue and recovery ensembles are intended for technical rescue operations where liquid hazards are present, particularly potentially contaminated blood and body fluids, as well as liquid contaminants that might be found in the disaster aftermath.

CBRN technical rescue ensembles are for incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) hazards as the result of terrorism activities.

Many requirements for the different elements of NFPA 1951 ensembles are analogous to structural firefighting elements, but there are several differences, particularly for garments and gloves, which have separate requirements among the three different ensemble categories.

The overriding consideration for protective clothing criteria is the expected long-term wearing of the clothing coupled with a rugged, physical working environment.

In addition, instead of sustained fire exposure as experienced at a structural fire, the principal thermal concern at a USAR incident is a flash fire that can occur with the ignition of trapped flammable vapor in debris or small fuel pools from a vehicle.

Garment design criteria for technical rescue gear encompass areas of coverage, types of hardware, and sizing. NFPA 1951 permits single or multi-layer garments, though technical rescue utility garments will generally be made from a single material layer.

Rescue and recovery garments can be either a shell with a barrier layer or a combined shell and barrier layer. In the new edition of NFPA 1951, collars are required to be 2 inches high, compared to the 3 inches dictated by NFPA 1971 for structural firefighting garments.

There are no trim visibility requirements. Trim may be used on technical rescue garments and must be both heat and flame resistant, but there are no criteria for its visibility, placement or durability, as there was in the 2001 edition.

The garment performance criteria in this standard focus primarily on physical protection, such as strength, tear, and abrasion resistance. Material strength requirements are higher for the 2007 edition.

Limited thermal insulation, thermal protective performance for protection from accidental flash fire-a TPP rating of 10-is required with testing performance with a quarter-inch spacer between the material and the sensor, replacing the formerly specified radiant protective performance test. All material must be flame and heat resistant.

Rescue and recovery garments are also required to demonstrate performance. Barrier materials are tested for liquid, chemical and viral penetration resistance, and whole garments are subjected to overall liquid integrity testing.

All garment types must demonstrate breathability by total heat loss testing. Technical rescue utility garments must have a higher level of breathability as compared to rescue and recovery garments. These requirements recognize that most firefighters using this clothing will be engaged in long-term operations that require high levels of comfort and functionality.

Ensemble Categories

Even though there are three ensemble categories, the same criteria apply to all helmets for technical rescue incidents. Specific design requirements include an adjustable suspension that provides ventilation, a sweat band, chin strap, and visibility markings.

The performance criteria for NFPA 1951 helmets are similar to wildland firefighting helmets with the exception that more rigorous requirements are applied to the suspension system.

Performance criteria entail: flame and heat resistance, impact and penetration resistance, electrical insulation, suspension and retention system performance and hardware corrosion resistance.

Technical rescue incident gloves have different defined criteria for the three different types of ensembles.

All gloves are subject to specific length and sizing requirements, use flame-resistant thread, and must be close-fitting around the wrist. Per the new 2007 edition, gloves must be provided with a wristlet or other design at the end of the glove to ensure that the gauntlet is tight-fitting around the wearer’s wrist.

Gloves are evaluated for: cut, puncture, and abrasion resistance; flame and heat resistance; insulation tests including thermal protective performance (TPP); and conductive heat resistance. The TPP test replaces the radiant protective performance (RPP) test that was part of the former edition.

These gloves must fully cover the hand, which is not true for all extrication gloves that are on the market. Rescue and recovery gloves are also evaluated for liquid chemical penetration resistance and viral penetration resistance.  These gloves must include a barrier, but be substantially lighter and thinner than structural gloves. Different levels of dexterity and grip are applied to the three categories of gloves. Technical rescue utility gloves are required to have better dexterity than rescue/recovery and CBRN technical rescue gloves. A similar approach is applied to grip.

Footwear Requirements

The new NFPA 1951 edition has similar footwear requirements. Even though the new edition identifies three types of footwear, there are no differences in the criteria between technical rescue utility and rescue and recovery footwear.

Footwear must be at least 8 inches high as measured from the inside of the footwear with the insole in place. Additional criteria cover the heel design and footwear sizing. Footwear must meet metatarsal protection requirements. This is protection to the top of the foot above the toe cap.

Performance criteria for footwear include: flame, heat, and electrical resistance for the overall footwear item; cut, puncture, and abrasion resistance for the footwear upper; thermal protective performance for the footwear upper; abrasion, puncture resistance, and slip resistance for the footwear sole; bend resistance for the ladder shank inside the footwear outer sole; and strength and corrosion resistance of footwear hardware.

Ideally, the footwear defined by the criteria in NFPA 1951 not only establishes a physically durable and robust boot, but one that is relatively lightweight and permits comfortable long-wearing periods.

The new standards also address eyewear with specific requirements that have been established to the types of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 goggles that are considered acceptable.

These include goggles with and without ventilation holes. However, unlike conventional industrial goggles, these goggles must also specify flame and heat resistance criteria so that the goggles will not burn or melt onto the wearer’s face in the event of an accidental flash fire.

CBRN technical rescue ensemble requirements are based on Class 3 requirements in NFPA 1994. Protective ensembles for first responders during CBRN terrorism incidents are for use in situations that are classified as not immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) permitting the use of a air-purifying respirator (APR) or powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR).

CBRN Ensembles

The CBRN technical ensemble must include garments, gloves, footwear, and a hood in combination with an approved CBRN APR or PAPR. CBRN technical rescue ensembles are subject to specific design and performance criteria in addition to the other criteria normally applied to technical rescue utility and rescue/recovery ensembles.

These criteria include man-in-simulant testing, full ensemble liquid integrity testing, and permeation testing of barrier layer materials in the garments, gloves, footwear, and hood.

Garments must meet the same criteria as applied to rescue and recovery garments with the exception that a lower total heat loss is permitted (250 W/m2 versus 450 W/m2).

Helmet requirements are the same as the requirements for both technical rescue utility and rescue/recovery helmets. Gloves must meet the same criteria as applied to rescue and recovery gloves. Footwear must meet the same criteria for both technical rescue utility and rescue/recovery footwear. Hoods must meet the same criteria as garments.

The key aspects of the CBRN ensemble are the interfaces between ensemble elements. Innovative connections must be made with the respirator, gloves, and footwear to prevent inward leakage of outside contaminants.

Overall, the new NFPA 1951 promises to offer several options for the emergency responder community in configuring long-term wearing ensembles that balance protection with wearer comfort.

A series of new products meeting each type of ensemble requirements are expected shortly after the standard becomes fully implemented later in 2007.

Editor’s Note: Doug Sloan was a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), retiring after 25 years with the department. While active, he spent 20 of his 25-year tenure with Special Operations Command (SOC) and was assigned to the World Trade Center for the entire eight months of rescue and recovery and was designated a team leader of FDNY’s Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) team. His team was directly involved with the final removal of the last found surviving victim after the World Trade Center attacks. As team leader, he was assigned a position on “the pile,” coordinating searches, which involved the planning, rigging, extrication and final removal of victims of 9/11. Sloan was awarded a scholarship by the International Assocation of Fire Fighters (IAFF) to Harvard University where he completed his studies in Labor/Management. He joined Total Fire Group after his retirement and is currently Senior Director of Metro Special Projects.

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