By F.I.E.R.O. Staff
Published Monday, June 11, 2012
Veteran firefighters remember when their personal protective equipment (PPE) came in two sizes—too small and too large. Today, firefighters have a range of sizes available for almost all of their PPE components. Yet, proper sizing remains an issue.
Try It On
Part of the problem is that too many fire departments fail to do the necessary homework prior to ordering their PPE. Many are unaware that NFPA requires a wide range of sizing for both men and women for turnout coats, trousers and boots. Almost all manufacturers have sizing garments available through their dealer network. These garments provide an opportunity for firefighters to try on a sample of the gear rather than rely on a measuring tape. Fire departments must insist that their distributor or the manufacturer provide sizing garments before placing an order. And remember: If you’re trying to decide between two sizes, one a bit snug and the other a bit loose, always choose the larger size.
The Complete Package
It’s also critical that sizing be performed in context with the entire PPE package. PPE is designed, tested, constructed, ordered and worn as individual components or elements. However, those components must perform as a complete system. For that reason, special attention should be given to the interface areas, such as:
- Neck area (coat collar, hood, helmet, and SCBA face mask)
- Wrist area (coat, gloves, and wristlets)
- Pants and boot area (pant leg hanging up on boot)
- SCBA straps with the coat (pocket access, ability to raise arms without restriction)
Proper sizing also requires doing more than just measuring or trying on an item. Sizing should involve the firefighter doing a few basic movements while wearing all components or elements of their PPE. Examples of basic movements include: crawling, squatting, reaching, climbing a ladder and getting in and out of the apparatus cab (including buckling the seat/shoulder belt).
Though sizing options are no longer “too small and too large”, there’s still work to be done to get the true, right fit. This is especially true for females and for males of small stature. A recently completed anthropometric study by NIOSH should provide a basis for improvements. Although this article is focused on the main, larger elements of the gear, we all know glove fit and dexterity remain issues (there are a lot of tradeoffs involved in making a decision on gloves.) Because of this, there are also considerable efforts underway to improve the fit and dexterity of firefighting gloves.
To learn more about sizing and the complex and ever-changing world of PPE, be sure to attend the 2012 F.I.E.R.O. Biennial Fire PPE Symposium, 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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