Firefighter face, eye protection advances stalled

Firefighter face, eye protection advances stalled

Attitudes, not technology, are what’s holding back significant improvements to firefighter safety One of the elements of a firefighter’s protective ensemble that often gets neglected is eye and face protection. Most often firefighters rely on their self-contained breathing apparatus facemask, but SCBA are not worn for every type of emergency response. Manufacturers must provide firefighter helmets with either a set of goggles or a faceshield, which is intended for supplemental eye and face protection. Yet, these items may not be the most effective for emergency response activities other than structural firefighting and also are easily damaged and become a source of contamination. Perhaps, it is time to rethink how eye and face protection is provided. It’s been a running debate in the fire service and one that NFPA recently looked at. Without any doubt, the full facepiece of an SCBA is a complete and reliable form of eye and face protection. When properly worn, it protects against physical, thermal, chemical and biological hazards. Current standards dictate a high degree of protective performance including extreme thermal exposures. The committee that writes standards for SCBA has endeavored to make the SCBA the most survivable part of the firefighter ensemble on the basis that protecting the firefighter’s air supply should be of paramount importance. This philosophy transcends into similarly providing high-quality eye and face protection. While there are certainly circumstances by which this protection can be compromised, the use of SCBA facepieces during structural fires and similar immediately dangerous to life and health environments is quite appropriate. FACEPIECE LIMITATIONS If there are any limitations for the SCBA facepiece in terms of eye...
Update: Firefighter PPE cleaning initiative

Update: Firefighter PPE cleaning initiative

As previously reported, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the standards research arm of the National Fire Protection Association, is working toward a project that has the short title, “How Clean is Clean?” This project is directed toward carrying out the research to understand the levels of contamination in firefighter clothing and how to properly clean that clothing. Here’s an update on where the project is going and some of the initial findings. To understand the significance of the project, it is necessary to recount the reasons that clothing contamination has become such a concern. For many, cancer in the fire service has reached a problem of epidemic proportions. Statistics clearly show that firefighters have an increased risk of certain cancers above the general population. Part of that risk is due to structural fires exposing firefighters to combustion products that include myriad of carcinogens. Most fire service organizations have adopted an aggressive posture to address ways to reduce risk through proper hygiene and other practices. Smoke particulates and fire gases easily penetrate turnout clothing and the clothing picks up and retains many of these contaminants. Thus, one way to mitigate continued exposure of firefighters to carcinogens and other harmful substances is to ensure that clothing is clean, a trend on the increase over the past two decades. Yet, despite the general improved practices, the industry still lacks any certainty if cleaning is effective and what approaches are the best to ensure that dirty or inadequately cleaned clothing does not become another way of creating firefighter exposure to carcinogens. Several studies show that firefighters are exposed to a variety of chemicals...
Firefighter PPE contamination: What you need to know

Firefighter PPE contamination: What you need to know

Not all contaminates are equal and neither are cleaning methods; understanding both is necessary for clean PPE Questions often arise as to how easy clothing becomes contaminated on the fireground and if there are differences in the level of contamination for the same items of a protective ensemble. The issue frequently comes up in distinguishing between rubber and leather footwear, but it is a reasonable inquiry for the overall clothing system. We have looked at contamination of different materials and can offer some insight to help firefighters determine if they need to be concerned about different exposure events. Contamination occurs when some unintended substance gets on or in clothing or equipment. It may be minor such as light soiling or intrinsically dangerous like a splash of a strong acid. Contamination implies substances that are unwanted because of their potential health effects. It is also important to recognize that contamination may be transient, either leaving the clothing on its own with time or through cleaning. The greatest concern is for contamination that is persistent and continues to expose the firefighter to the hazard. The process of contamination itself varies greatly as does the environments in which the contamination occurs. During a structural fire, much of the contamination is in the form of smoke particulate and fire gases. This form of contamination envelopes the firefighter, contaming all exterior surfaces of the clothing ensemble. The contamination also penetrates various portions of the ensemble, most notably through joints and gaps between different clothing items or closures such as on the front of the coat or pants fly. Gases and fine particles easily get...
How firefighter hoods will fight cancer

How firefighter hoods will fight cancer

While no silver bullet for cancer prevention, barrier hoods are a great step in that direction In February 2014 we wrote that protective hoods are the most vulnerable area of the firefighter’s ensemble. That’s because hoods lack any type of barrier characteristics to keep out the superfine particles that absorb a variety of hazardous chemicals including carcinogens. This shortcoming was coupled with NIOSH studies and other research showing carcinogen buildup on firefighters’ skin, particularly on the neck and face areas unprotected by the SCBA face piece. Further, that skin absorbs chemicals easily around a person’s jaw line led to the obvious conclusion that current-day hoods have little effectiveness in keeping out soot. Then in January 2015, we assisted the IAFF with a study to show how much particle penetration takes place throughout the entire structural firefighting ensemble. After that, there could be no doubt that the hood is one of the serious gaps in firefighter protection that needs to be solved. An overwhelming number of firefighter hoods consist of two layers of knit material fashioned into a sock-like hood that stretches over the firefighter’s head with an opening for the SCBA face piece and bib that is supposed to stay tucked inside under the top of the coat. The current requirements in NFPA 1971 considers hoods an interface devices for providing thermal protection in areas where other ensemble elements do not always provide complete coverage, such as the SCBA face piece, helmet ear covers and coat collar. Yet as the firefighter moves, the hood shifts and leaves the interface areas exposed to the hostile environment. Revising NFPA 1971 When...
Firefighting gear: Is it time for large changes?

Firefighting gear: Is it time for large changes?

Here’s a hard look at the barriers prohibiting meaningful PPE innovation “Don’t fix what is not broken” is a common phrase used to impede change or at least to question change for change’s sake. If we look at the turnout clothing industry, we actually see a product range that is relatively mature with continual, gradual improvements. In essence, gear is pretty much the way it has been for more than two decades. Yes there are the occasional blips where something new comes along like barrier hoods, and novel improvements can bring about an interesting materials or features. For the most part, the vast majority of the fire service seems to be satisfied with current state of technology for turnout gear. But the reality is that we live in a rapidly changing world, and we are constantly affected by new discoveries and technological developments. The current situation leads to two questions: why are there not larger changes afoot in the industry, and what types of changes might the fire service be missing out on? Change comes about usually because of firefighter needs or a new technology becomes available that supplants the old technology. In the early 2000s, SCBA went through a tremendous change when there was a perceived need that there needed to be chemical, biological and radiological protection as part of the SCBA. This need drove some significant changes in how SCBA were designed and the materials used in their construction. At about the same time, it became possible to incorporate a heads up display that allowed a more effective means for firefighters to monitor their air levels. These...