Research Studies Abound Despite The Bad Economy

It is not unusual for certain segments of the economy to flourish during a recession. For example, automotive and equipment repair businesses usually don’t feel the negative impact as people try to keep their stuff in operating condition for a longer period of time. No doubt this is happening in the fire apparatus industry today. 

It is very intriguing that research and studies for the fire service are actually flourishing during this time. Casey Grant, program director for the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Protection Research Foundation, has described the current climate as a “renaissance” of fire service research. The Foundation has multiple projects in process or soon to be started. Fortunately, many of the projects center on firefighter safety.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation is an independent charitable organization founded by NFPA in 1982. It is intended to provide data to support the needs of NFPA codes and standards. Its funding comes from the private and public sectors, including manufacturers, trade associations, the U.S. Fire Administration, federal agencies, research organizations and NFPA.  During its history, the foundation has worked with over 100 different organizations.      

The foundation sets its agenda by benchmarking and research planning in key standard development areas. It works through direct communication with NFPA technical committees and other technical gatherings. The process involves a needs assessment, identifying resources, formation of a project technical review panel that provides oversight, contracting with a research entity and publishing reports through the foundation’s Web site.  

Examples of recent work include:
•  Reaching the U.S. Fire Service with Hydrogen Safety Information:  A Roadmap for the Department of Energy.
•  Fire Fighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions: 7-Story Building Experiments (with the National Institute of Standards and Technology – NIST).
•  Thermal Capacity of Fire Fighter Protective Clothing (with N.C. State University and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
•  Respiratory Exposure Study for Fire Fighters and Other Emergency Workers.

These and other reports are available on the foundation’s Web site at  

Current research projects include advisory services for fire grant projects on improving firefighter glove design and materials with N.C. State University; cardiac effects and international comparison of firefighter injuries with the University of Arizona; determining best practices for emergency response for electric vehicles and solar panels through a Fire Act Grant.

Proposed future projects under development include: field studies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to get a basis for PPE durability with the NFPA’s Fire Analysis Division; performance criteria of PPE with NIST; and a hazard assessment of fire service training fires with NIST.

Seatbelt Safety

Many future needs have been identified. For example, the emergence of electronics on the fire ground has opened a new frontier of research, including: establishing performance criteria for data/voice telemetry; defining parameters for firefighter location and monitoring; establishing an electronics integration platform; and establishing a physiological monitoring protocol.      

In addition to research conducted through NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation, NIST has focused a lot of its attention on firefighter safety.

Last year NIST issued a Pilot Study of Fire Fighter Three-Dimensional Anthropometry to Improve Seatbelt Safety. Hopefully, this study will lead to improved apparatus cab design and ergonomics that, in turn, will lead to ease of buckling of seatbelts. The study is very revealing in that anthropometric studies of personnel in other occupations (such as the military) were not valid for firefighters wearing full PPE.

Over five years ago the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a study called the Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative. Regrettably, the very first recommendation – “Develop a comprehensive database that tracks accidents involving emergency vehicles and any resulting injuries/deaths to both firefighters and civilians” – has yet to materialize. Yet, the need is identified for an appropriate agency to start the task.

Last year FEMA released a report titled Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study. This is an example of a study recommendation that has seen progress as evidenced by the new requirements for rear chevron striping on fire apparatus.  

Clearinghouse Needed

Dr. James Andrews, founder of the Institute for Orthopedics Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, Fla., and Athlete’s Performance have just completed collecting data that may have the potential to reduce firefighter injuries. The research study was conducted by two Ph.D. students from the University of Waterloo in Canada and over 75 members of the Pensacola Fire Department.  

With the growth of research, how can the fire service get the most bang for the buck? Without a doubt there is too much of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Many studies are not adequately known to the firefighting community, even after they are published. The researchers are often graduate students trying to fulfill an assignment, and in many cases their universities are not connected to the fire service community. When a topic for research is identified, often it is not vetted to see if there are similar studies.  

And therein is the value of NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation. It should be the fire service clearinghouse for research. The foundation is not going to dictate what needs to be studied, who should study it, who should fund it or put its fingers into any research entity’s business. However, it can assist by providing a database of previous, on-going and future research. Through this body of knowledge, researchers can maximize the benefits of their studies for the fire service.

If a project is appropriate and the parties are willing, the foundation can also help with the logistics of the study, as well as identify subject area experts.    

Bringing Legitimacy 

Tremendous value can be gained from objective research studies that are based on science. We have to be cautious of research studies funded by manufacturers to advance their products. Projects processed through the NFPA’s Fire 

Protection Research Foundation bring legitimacy to research.  

The NFPA PPE technical committees have tapped into the foundation’s resources. The apparatus and equipment technical committees should do likewise.

If you know someone or a group about to start a research project, please direct them to the foundation. For information, go to

Editor’s Note: Robert Tutterow, who has 30 years in the fire service, is the Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department health and safety officer. He is a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Department Apparatus Committee and is on two other NFPA committees, the Structural and Proximity Firefighting Protective Ensemble Technical Committee and the Technical Correlating Committee for Fire and Emergency Services PPE.

More Fire Apparatus Current Issue Articles
More Fire Apparatus Archives Issue Articles

No posts to display