Alan M. Petrillo
Personal protective equipment (PPE) makers are regularly talking to firefighters and fire command personnel to determine what they want to see in their turnout gear and how it might be redesigned or modified to make it as functional as possible.
Lighter, Less Bulky
Globe Manufacturing Inc. introduced its latest embodiment of what firefighters have been asking for in their gear with its PBI Lightweight Gold System.
Mark Mordecai, Globe’s director of business development, says Globe has heard from firefighters that they want less restrictive, lighter, less bulky turnout gear without sacrificing the breathability or thermal protection offered by current PPE. “This requires a garment design, its fit, and the material it is crafted from to work together the way the firefighter’s body moves,” Mordecai says. “For our G-Xtreme turnout gear, which is less restrictive because it has length in those areas where the body bends, we’ve introduced the dimension of shape through lighter and more flexible materials to fit the firefighter’s body better.”
Mordecai points out that Globe added shape to G-Xtreme last year to improve fit and reduce bulk, and with the new PBI materials the gear now is even more flexible and has superior break-open resistance, which allows for still greater thermal protection.
“The outer shell of gear made with a traditional fabric is pretty stiff,” he notes, “but using the PBI Max with its lighter filament Kevlar® we get more flex yet still a very strong fabric, so it maximizes both strength and flexibility.”
Gear lightness and extra flexibility is accomplished by adding the PBI fiber to the moisture substrate and thermal liner, Mordecai says. He adds that “restriction, bulk, inflexibility, and weight are the bad guys in PPE design, so you have to address those areas and shape the turnout gear to fit the firefighter’s body.”
|(1) Globe Manufacturing has given its G-Xtreme turnout gear more
strength and flexibility through use of a PBI Max fabric made from a
lighter filament Kevlar. (Photo courtesy of Globe Manufacturing.)
Karen Lehtonen, director of products for Lion, says Lion has been retooling PPE as a result of firefighter feedback. “Our goal is to take an innovative approach to make turnout gear more functional and stress reducing and provide better mobility,” she says. “Those goals are where we’re focused with retooling our PPE.”
Lehtonen says that key areas Lion is looking at are interfaces and interoperability with other PPE elements. “We want to make sure it’s not harder to put gloves on after putting on the turnout coat or harder to put on a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) after being geared up,” she says. “We’re also looking at how the helmet interacts with the turnout coat, hood, and SCBA face piece.”
Lion’s recent redesign of its V-Force turnout gear that uses PBI Max fabric outer shells and Glide liners has resulted in a balance of comfort, mobility, and protection, Lehtonen maintains. “These fabrics have higher lubricity levels so they improve mobility of the firefighter and the fit of the garment,” she says. “And, we’ve incorporated greater venting and stretch into our turnout gear. We took the concept from athletic wear of allowing interior heat to vent out to the exterior, while preventing exterior heat from coming in, and are adding stretch panels in areas where greater stretch mobility is needed.”
|(2) Lion makes its V-Force PPE with a focus on reducing
stress on the firefighter and providing better mobility.
(Photo courtesy of Lion.)
The Ready Position
John Zbozien, marketing director for Fire-Dex, says his company’s approach to PPE design focuses on comfort and mobility and achieves those goals by designing a garment through active posture design. “We target the center point of a range of motion so the firefighter is not fighting the gear to get into a ready position,” Zbozien says. “We want less bunching of material and less firefighter stress and fatigue from fighting the gear.”
Steve Bonamer, Fire-Dex’s director of sales and marketing, says the FXR turnout gear the company makes is designed with elbows and knees naturally bent in a resting position. “It’s designed for the midpoint of range of motion so the firefighter can reach more easily when wearing the turnout coat and move his legs more easily inside the pants legs,” Bonamer says. “So, a firefighter in FXR gear is in the ready position with legs bent and arms and hands out in front of him.”
Designing PPE in the ready position means less material needs to be used, Bonamer points out, allowing for lighter and less stressful gear. “Combining a narrower coat flap with the ready position shoulder design means we use between 15 and 20 percent less fabric, giving a firefighter greater range of motion without the extra weight of that material,” he says.
Fire-Dex also moved the seam on the turnout coat’s shoulder inward toward the neck and collarbone so it doesn’t interfere with an SCBA shoulder strap. “A firefighter doesn’t have to drag his SCBA shoulder harness over a seam and possibly fight the coat material in doing so,” Bonamer says. “Also, the way we design our turnout coat shoulders, when a firefighter raises his arms over his head, the gear doesn’t force the material to try to move the SCBA up with it.”
|(3) Fire-Dex’s new FX-R turnout gear is designed
with the elbows and knees naturally bent in a resting position
to give firefighters a greater range of motion.
(Photo courtesy of Fire-Dex.)
Better Fit for All
Mordecai believes the time is coming in the near future when PPE manufacturers will be able to offer a better fit for every firefighter in a department. “We have a relaxed and regular fit in our turnout pants and tapered and straight fit for our turnout coats,” he says. “Those versions have helped us take PPE from fitting 85 percent of firefighters to giving a much more natural fit for everyone. Firefighters need to have gear that protects them, moves with them, and improves their performance-that’s our ultimate goal.”
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.