Wow! How in the world did our personal protective equipment (PPE) get so expensive? Remember the days of cotton duck, red ball gloves, aluminum helmets and fishing waders as footwear? That equipment was readily available, and didn’t set us back much.
A lot of the expense of modern PPE has to do with performance testing and the third-party certification of the test results. Very few firefighters have an understanding of the testing that goes into the design and manufacturing of PPE.
Keeping in mind that PPE is life safety equipment, here is a brief review of some the testing required.
Coats and Trousers The tests for the main portion of your PPE include flame resistance, heat/thermal resistance, thermal protective performance (TPP), total heat loss (THL), conductive and compressive heat resistance (CCHR), light degradation resistance, thread melting, tear resistance, seam strength, cleaning shrinkage resistance, water absorption resistance, water penetration resistance, liquid penetration resistance, viral penetration resistance, overall liquid penetration resistance (shower test), corrosion resistance, trim retro-reflectivity, trim fluorescence, light degradation resistance, drag rescue device (DRD) function test, DRD material resistance test, and label durability and legibility tests.
Helmets For helmets, there are tests for flame resistance, heat resistance, shell retention, suspension retention, overall retention, electrical resistance, top impact resistance, impact acceleration, faceshield/goggle abrasion and faceshield/goggle impact resistance as well as some tests required for coats and pants.
Boots Boots are tested for puncture resistance, cut resistance, abrasion resistance, electrical insulation properties, impact and compression resistance, ladder shank bend, and eyelet and stud-post attachment integrity. In addition, there are several other tests as described with coats and pants.
Gloves In addition to many of the tests for coats and pants, gloves are tested for cut resistance, puncture resistance, hand function (dexterity) and grip.
Ensuring Your Safety The dozens of tests, which must be third-party certified, add huge costs to firefighter PPE. Though test methods can be debated ad nauseum, such tests do ensure that PPE is not being made by “fly-by-night” companies and there is a minimal chance that well-intended manufacturers will produce an inferior product.
To gain an appreciation and understanding of PPE test methods, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to tour one of the premier firefighter PPE research and testing facilities in the world. The tour of T-PACC (Textile Protection and Comfort Center) at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles will be a highlight of the upcoming F.I.E.R.O. Fire PPE Symposium. Attendees will have an opportunity to see an array of testing equipment as required by NFPA, as well as other research equipment used in the future development of PPE. There will also be three presentations given by the T-PACC staff during the event. The Symposium will be March 4—6, 2013, at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel in Raleigh, N.C. Details and online registration are available at www.fireppesymposium.com.