Conference Offers the ABCs of PPE

In March, more than 250 firefighters attended the first-ever F.I.E.R.O. (Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization) PPE Symposium. Held in Charlotte, N.C., the event drew “overwhelmingly positive” reviews, says Robert Tutterow, vice-president of F.I.E.R.O. The 2 ½-day gathering focused entirely on personal protective equipment (PPE), giving attendees essential in-depth information on what Tutterow describes as “an area that has gotten increasingly complicated in recent years.”  

Several educational sessions focused on care and maintenance of PPE, with much attention on complying with NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting; NFPA 1852: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA); and NFPA 1981: Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services.

“This is the big topic right now,” Tutterow says. “Fire departments are especially struggling with how to comply with NFPA 1851. In these sessions, they got an understanding of what’s in the standards, how the standards are created and even got a glimpse into the future.”

Straight from the Speakers

One of the most popular sessions was presented by Lt. Dan Rossos of the Portland (Ore.) Fire Department, who chairs committees for three NFPA standards. He shared his knowledge of open-circuit SCBA, covering NFPA standards 1852 and 1981.

“I talked about how to use [NFPA standards] as a tool–not only to identify what your care and maintenance program should look like, but to participate in its future,” Rossos says. “I tried to educate people on how the committee works, the process of revising a document and issues surrounding 2012, when we’ll change to a new standard” for 1852.

Rossos urged his audience to participate in creating that new standard by submitting proposals when the time comes. “Firefighters have to wear these devices whether they like it or not–so they should have a voice in it,” he points out. “Hopefully I incited or excited them to participate and send in a proposal for consideration.” All proposals submitted during the open call period will be reviewed by the committee and then voted on.

Another popular session covered NFPA standard 1851, and was presented by Kirk Owen, a retired deputy chief from the Plano (Texas) Fire Department who now works for Southern Mills, a manufacturer of protective fabrics. Regarding his session “Managing a PPE Care and Maintenance Program,” Owen explains that, “The current standard has been around since late 2007, and fire departments are still really trying to get their arms around it.” This was reflected in the type of attendees at his session: “I think there was a good representation of fire departments at the symposium; there were people who already knew a lot about PPE and others who I suspect were just starting to figure this out,” says Owen.

PPE Repeat?

After hearing praise from attendees, speakers and vendors for its 20 educational sessions and an exhibit hall with 27 PPE vendors, F.I.E.R.O. considers the symposium a great success. However, there are no specific plans to repeat it in 2010. “Public services are cutting their travel funds, and departments’ budgets won’t be any bigger next year than they are now,” Tutterow says, adding that there will be a PPE Symposium in May 2011 at the Omni Hotel in Charlotte.

F.I.E.R.O. is a nonprofit group of Southeastern U.S. fire service professionals who meet to network about equipment and safety issues. It was formed in 1990, and has hosted fire station design symposiums in the past. For more information, visit www.fireppesymposium.com and www.fierofirestation.com.

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