Alan M. Petrillo
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (2012 ed.), became effective August 29, and manufacturers will have one year from that effective date to comply with the new edition.
Originally expected to be issued in January, the new edition was delayed while seven challenges related to gloves and footwear testing methods were researched and then heard at the NFPA membership meeting in June in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Karen Lehtonen, a member of the NFPA 1971 committee and director of products for Lion, says the committee defeated the first two challenges reviewed at that meeting with the balance being withdrawn by the challengers. The challenges were not about design requirements or pass/fail levels but rather the manner in which various elements were to be tested. “Essentially, all the challenges to the standard were defeated at that meeting, so the standard then proceeded as written by the committee,” Lehtonen said. She noted that no challenges had been raised regarding turnout gear, helmets, or hoods.
Some of the changes in the 2012 standard revolve around how personal protective equipment (PPE) handles stored energy, as well as dexterity issues for gloves, Lehtonen notes. “For garments, there is the addition of a stored energy test in the revised standard,” she points out, “which applies to the sleeves of the garment and any reinforcement material, such as elbow pads. The standard is trying to reduce burn injuries from extra reinforcement and material on a garment where heat would build up on the sleeve reinforcements, get compressed by perhaps leaning against a wall, and release the heat energy to cause a burn injury.”
Lehtonen says NFPA 1971 already has conductive and compressive tests for reinforced material in bunker pants. “The committee heard a lot about burns occurring underneath the trim on coats, which were attributed to the stored energy effect,” she says. “Manufacturers will solve the issue with either ventilation or additional layers of thermal insulation.”
Pat Freeman, technical services manager for Globe Manufacturing and also a member of the NFPA 1971 committee, agrees the biggest change in the standard was the test for stored energy in a garment. “The committee tried to address why firefighters get burned under low-flex heat conditions and address that with the new test to measure the ability of the three basic layers-outer shell, thermal liner, and moisture barrier-to store and transmit heat,” Freeman says. “Anything sewn to the outer sleeve shell will have to meet the test.”
She adds that the revised standard also will require flame and heat testing for integrated harnesses, listing of product names instead of generic descriptions on garment labeling, and will change the requirements for hook-and-loop fastener performance to address durability.
Protecting Feet and Hands
Boots and gloves also will have new test methods under the revised standard. For gloves, new tests that will improve the dexterity of gloves include a glove grip test and a glove tool dexterity test. Plus there is a test to determine the amount of thermal protection for a firefighter’s hands.
Deena Cotterill, quality and compliance coordinator for Fire-Dex, notes that the standard includes a more realistic and functional test for gloves. “A tool test [will] require the tester to be able to insert bolts and attach washers and nuts to a board,” Cotterill says. She continues, “The grip strength test for gloves was updated to better represent the obstacles a firefighter faces in the field by gripping a smooth surfaced object with wet gloves as opposed to a textured rope laying flat.”
Boots will be evaluated using different methods too, including a whole-boot flame test. Freeman notes that the revised standard will have a new conductive heat resistance test on the sole of a boot. “This is an entirely new test,” she says. “The current test method is for a short exposure to measure the sole area, but the new requirement is for a 30-minute test.” In addition, Freeman says the standard changes the testing of puncture resistance on boots, modifying the method in which puncture resistance is measured, and uses a slightly different apparatus to make those measurements.
But, the whole-boot flame test is the one that has attracted the most attention, Freeman notes. “It will subject the entire boot to the flame test for a certain period of time, where the boot is suspended over a large pan of water with a flammable solvent on top of the water,” she says. “Formerly, the flame test was only done on three points on the boot for a certain stated time.”
Lehtonen thinks firefighters may see some changes in boots as a result of the new required tests. “We think all these changes will be positively received by the industry,” Lehtonen says. “They will dramatically impact burn injuries and also improve glove dexterity, and in the long term, people will see benefits from improved products.”
Both Lehtonen and Freeman note their company’s products already meet the revised standards for turnout gear, gloves, and boots. Likewise, Sandy Longarzo, marketing manager for Haix, says, “All the boots in our product line already have passed the whole-boot flame test, so Haix is not affected” by the revisions to the standard.
Freeman points out that changes in test methods are always geared toward making turnout gear more protective for firefighters. To that end, manufacturers will have time to work them into their processes. “Manufacturers have a year to phase in to meet the new standards,” she says. “The drop-dead compliant date is August 29, 2013.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.