By F.I.E.R.O. Staff
Published Monday, September 10, 2012
We’re hearing a lot these days about the changing fire environment. The change is the difference in building materials and furnishings found in today’s buildings compared to those a generation ago. Modern structures and furnishings are predominantly petroleum-based products—a recipe forhotter fires, earlier flashovers and earlier building collapse.
Awareness of today’s fire load was the driving force behind the number one “tools and equipment” research need as identified by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Report of the 2nd National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium. The report states the primary need as an “Assessment of current Personal Protective Equipment (entire ensemble) performance, functionality and related safety features for today’s fire environment.”
As part of the background for determining this need, the report acknowledged the change in fire loads: “These differences, combined with the recent research on fire behavior and extinguishment, require an assessment of current PPE to scientifically determine whether or not it is appropriately designed for the current fire behavior and firefighting tactics.”
Concurrent to the changing fire environment is the emergence of a deeper understanding of fire behavior. Through new modeling technology, NIST and UL are conducting carefully monitored fires and learning a lot more about fire behavior, especially as it relates to ventilation. In addition, the “Kill the Flashover Project” is revealing a lot of information about air track management and safer, more effective ways to fight fire. Many of the initial findings present a challenge to the conventional wisdom of fire suppression.
What does all of this have to do with PPE? That remains to be seen. However, it is noteworthy that in the last “Kill the Flashover” research burn, there was a group of firefighters that were double-hooding and then pulling a third heavier hood (attached to the coat) over their helmet and head prior to making their attack. Their PPE was based on the concept used by the Swedish fire service.
As participants in this project noted, Swedish firefighters often say we American firefighters “Value our ass more than our heads.” If that proves true, it will certainly lead to changes in our protective ensemble.
To find out more about PPE and the changing fire environment, be sure to see FireRescue magazine/FirefighterNation.com Editor-in-Chief Tim Sendelbach’s presentation on this subject at the upcoming 2013 F.I.E.R.O. Fire PPE Symposium. The Symposium will be held March 4–6, 2013, at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel in Raleigh, N.C. A highlight of the symposium will be a tour of the Textile Protection and Comfort Center (T-PACC) at N.C. State University. Details and online registration are available at www.fireppesymposium.com.
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