PPE Advancements Focus On Protection And Mobility

Morning Pride uses magnetic rings to create seals between gloves and coat sleeves.
Morning Pride uses magnetic rings to create seals between gloves and coat sleeves. (Morning Pride)
Globe's AXTION back full-length expansion pleats on the shell work with the AXTION liner to provide unrestricted movement with or without an SCBA. G-XTREME has minimal coat rise as a result.
Globe’s AXTION back full-length expansion pleats on the shell work with the AXTION liner to provide unrestricted movement with or without an SCBA. G-XTREME has minimal coat rise as a result.
Lion Apparel provides flexibility for joints, such as the knee, so the garment will not bunch up.
Lion Apparel provides flexibility for joints, such as the knee, so the garment will not bunch up.

Very few people enjoy change, and firefighters fit into the category of desiring the least change possible, especially when it comes to their turnout gear.

Studies by personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers have shown that most firefighters are comfortable with the way their gear works, but that they’d appreciate added levels of protection – as long as that protection doesn’t come with a penalizing cost, such as less mobility or lots of extra weight.

So PPE makers are responding to firefighter needs and field requests by changing turnout gear, modifying it in sometimes subtle ways, to make it more protective and yet responsive.

Total Fire Group’s Morning Pride of Dayton, Ohio, is one of those manufacturers talking with firefighters and testing gear in the field. It has participated in the Project Heroes initiative of the International Association of Fire Fighters to develop and field test structural firefighting PPE that meets the National Fire Protection Association 1971 standard’s CBRN option for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protective qualities.

Participating with the IAFF and Total proper interfaces where the helmet meets the hood, where the hood meets the coat and where the pants meet the boots. And we’ve done that.”

Total Fire Group makes PPE ensembles for structural firefighting, proximity use, urban search and rescue, wildland firefighting and EMS.

Grilliot noted certain interfaces can be made on gear where connections are semi-permanent. For instance, connecting boot barrier material to the pants barrier material must be a semi-permanent connection because the two pieces of gear must have the ability to be separated to use and maintain. Likewise, other areas of the gear ensemble, such as the gloves, have to be able to be detached because a firefighter might take off a glove and put it back on multiple times at a fire scene.

The Project Heroes gear uses two methods at the boots-pants interface: one where the two elements are stitched together to provide a solid layer of CBRN protection; another where a gasketing material connects the boots and pants barriers together so they can be detached.

“With the gloves, we created a magnetic ring where one half of the ring is mounted to the cuff section of the glove and the other half of the magnetic polarity is on the moisture barrier of the coat,” Grilliot said. “So when you put your glove on, the two magnets attract and seal themselves, allowing you to break the seal to take them off and put them back on.”

Mark Mordecai, director of business development for Globe Manufacturing in Pittsfield, N.H., believes turnout gear has become more protective than ever, but cautions that the heavy levels of protection sometimes cause heat stress on firefighters inside the gear.

“There are over 100 line-of-duty firefighter deaths yearly, and half of those are from stress and overexertion. So heat stress and cardiac events play a big part,” he said. “Firefighters go from a rested state to high levels of exertion without any warm-up period and then have to carry 80 pounds of equipment and hose lines, working in gear that has a limited ability to dissipate body heat.”

Mordecai noted that as gear has become more protective, it hasn’t had any impact on reducing firefighter deaths.

“Making gear more protective and keeping firefighters from flame and thermal issues has allowed them to go in deeper and stay longer,” he said, “but that may not be solving the heat stress problem.”

Globe Manufacturing is involved in research with Skidmore University and Worcester Polytechnic to study the physiological effects on firefighters and come up with ways to help manage heat and stress inside turnout gear.

“We’re developing an electronic T-shirt that is no-melt, no-drip and moisture wicking and that includes electronic sensors and a transmitter to collect and send signals out of a building for the firefighter and incident commander to be aware when the firefighter reaches dangerous limits of stress,” Mordecai said.

He noted that a number of features can be built into a physiological status monitoring (PSM) shirt once the science is established. “It could provide a thermal profile of the air layer striations in a building, for example, so the incident commander can have eyes inside the building,” he said.

Restriction By Gear0

Restriction by gear is another issue firefighters deal with, Mordecai said. In response, Globe developed its GXTREME turnout gear to allow movement without restriction.

In places where the body bends, for instance at the knee, Globe added five inches of material on top of the knee area of the pants and added fullness on the sides to reduce the amount of material behind the knee. Also, when you bend your knee, he said you need additional length in the seat, so Globe added eight inches in fullness to the seat.

“There’s a whole physiology that’s been incorporated into the design where we’ve developed the gear around how the human body moves,” Mordecai noted.

Working With You

At Lion Apparel in Dayton, Ohio, Karen Lehtonen, the company’s protective systems group products director, said mobility is a key element in turnout gear.

She said, “When we designed our V-Force line of gear, we tried to incorporate the latest technology from sports and military clothing where they’re really looking at performance and mobility, and the garment is working with you instead of against you.”

For instance, Lion Apparel’s turnout coat comes with two options – a raglan sleeve design and a bi-swing back that allows the back of the coat to expand when a firefighter reaches forward.

Lehtonen noted there are a lot of cutouts used in the garments, especially where a firefighter might bend at natural joints like the elbows and knees. “We’ll put less material behind the knees and in the elbows where your body bends so the garment won’t bunch up on you,” she said. “It’s bending with you instead of folding up and crumpling. The design of the garment provides a lot of flexibility.”

Besides mobility and comfort, she said some fire departments are seeking niche elements in gear to address what they consider risks in their area of operations.

For example, in the Northeast, she said, because a lot of departments are interested in personal escape systems, Lion Apparel offers a Class 2 harness that’s built into turnout pants. It also offers an option for an escape belt and is in the process of launching a personal rescue system or bailout kit that’s separate from the gear.

“Turnout gear today has the greatest level of protection and highest acceptance in the field from firefighters,” Lehtonen said. “And we see more advancements in the future, such as in improving the thermal protection as well as the comfort and safety of the gear.”

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