Fire Fighter Safety Equipment

Fire fighters are dependent on the quality and proper use of their fire safety
equipment, from their turnouts and boots to life sustaining self-contained breathing
apparatus to provide protection and support. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration has required specific criteria for the protective equipment utilized by fire
fighters and has even provided an outline of testing procedures to determine the fire-
retardant nature of outer gear, especially turnouts and helmets. It is necessary that fire
safety uniforms meet specific standards in order to insure the safety of individuals who often
put themselves in hazardous situations as an element of their work.
Approximately 1.2 million of America\'s 1.5 million firefighters and rescue workers are
volunteers, but this does not diminish the importance of utilizing appropriate safety
equipment and protocols
(Walters 6). It has readily been recognized that ineffective use of equipment, especially
protective gear for firefighters, is one of the most significant causes of injury and death
among firefighters. Over 100,000 fire fighters were injured in the line of duty from 1990-
1992, approximately 280 of those injuries resulting in death (Anonymous 231).
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recognized that
the following four factors are the most important elements in reducing the chance of death or
injury for fire fighters:
1. fire fighters must follow established policies and procedures; 2. fire fighters must
understand and use an adequate respirator maintenance program; 3. fire fighters must be
made accountable for their action at a fire scene, and recognize their role within the fire
fighting team; and 4. fire fighters must be trained in the use of self-protection equipment,
including the use of personal-alert safety-system devices at the fire scene (Anonymous 231).
A number of these elements can be directly correlated to the personal equipment utilized by
each fire fighter and demonstrates the need for protocol adherence and specific use-related
training.
One of the most problematic issues in considering the personal equipment and
uniforms utilized by firefighters is that while this equipment is necessary for the safety of the
fire fighter, personal protection gear, especially turnouts and boot combinations and helmets,
can be especially limiting to the range of movements and reaction times for firefighters.
Older turnouts often utilized in volunteer fire fighting departments, though they may still
meet basic safety requirements, can often be so limiting that individuals make exceptions for
their use as a result (Smith et al 2065). It has been recognized that the NFPA 1500 standard
gear causes more stress and creates more difficulty in general movements than the hip boot
or station blues configurations that are often utilized (Smith et al 2065).
It has also been recognized in the current literature that willingness to follow
procedural protocol can be related to the perceptions of ease with which equipment can be
accessed and the useabilty of the equipment itself. The fact that many fire fighters have
negative responses to their necessary fire fighting "costumes" suggests that there needs to be
a greater focus on creating effective equipment that can be utilized by fire fighters without
resistance.
The major components to the fire fighters personal safety uniform (or turnout) consists
of a jacket, which is made of a number of material created with fire retardant materials that
has a durable and resistant external shell, similarly created pants (with a boot combination),
a helmet that provides access to respiratory equipment when necessary, and footwear when it
is not incorporated into the pants. Both jackets and pants require metalized external shells
and internal layers of cotton thermal material that can be removed to meet specific
environmental factors. Among the standard accessories in terms of fire safety equipment
available to each fire fighter is gloves, a face shield, and respiratory apparatus, which
includes a self-contained air filtration system.
The development of the fire fighters uniform requires attention to a number of specific
details in addition to its fire retardant nature. It is clear that mobility and the weight of
personal equipment must be considered in its development. Although a number of
significantly more durable and more protective materials has challenged fire fighting
equipment manufacturers, it is clear that the current materials are being used because they
are both durable and lightweight. Because of the very physical nature of fire fighting tasks, it
is imperative that the uniforms utilized do not prohibitively limit the actions of the fire fighter
(Bone 34). The development of protective fibers for the clothing of firefighters has resulted in
the creation of four widely used fabrics, including: NOMEX, INDURA, and FLAMEX