by Allen Maples, Product Specialist, W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. –
At the recent FDIC, W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. (Gore) introduced the PARALLON™ liner system for structural turnout garments, with full commercial availability intended for the Fall. This new product enables a previously unobtainable level of breathability, combined with increased consistency of thermal protection in wet conditions.
I’m the product specialist for that product, ultimately responsible for its performance. And I’ve guided our teams and business over these last years to bring this new product to the firefighter.
But it has been a long road to get to this point, and to a large extent, the journey is just beginning.
A number of years ago, we began intensely exploring what could be new benefits and advancements to firefighter performance. We proposed different ideas to a range of firefighters, discussed areas for improvement in their gear, and most of all listened to the challenges firefighters faced. And we also worked to understand the emerging challenges firefighters would be facing in the future.
We had a lot of questions to answer.
What should the gear do differently? Can Gore actually achieve it? Is it aligned with Gore’s expertise in comfort and protection? Could we move the performance needle enough to truly help the firefighter? Could we do it within the existing NFPA 1971 Standard? Who would be excited about it? Who would fight against it?
And although Gore was, and is, providing the highest performance moisture barriers for turnout gear, we determined early on in these new development efforts that if we were going to make the level of change we wanted in the gear’s performance, we would have to go beyond just the moisture barriers. We would have to re-engineer the entire liner. You can imagine that created new questions and challenges.
We eventually decided to focus in on two aspects of performance.
The first was about thermal protection. Many firefighters told us that they were not looking for more baseline thermal protection which could encourage them to go too deep or add more weight and bulk. But there was an emerging recognition of the impact of moisture in gear, and how it could alter the thermal protection. We dug in to the science behind this, building a new level of understanding of moisture’s impact on thermal protection, particularly in ordinary fireground thermal conditions (subflash). We found that we could help minimize the drops in thermal protection that moisture could cause.
The second area of performance improvement was about heat stress management. Many years ago Gore pioneered the introduction of breathable moisture barriers in turnout gear, enabling the human body’s natural mechanism of sweat evaporation to help minimize core temperature rise, and help manage heat stress. But working hard in turnout gear in tough conditions still meant firefighters’ core temperature was rising, and that is known to impact safety and effectiveness. We knew we could now dramatically improve the breathability of the gear, thus further reducing core temperature rise.
But there was concern. We were bringing improvements to both thermal protection and heat stress management – improvements we believed would help the firefighter – but the ways in which we were doing this were beyond the requirements of the existing NFPA 1971 Standard. Would anyone care if the tests showing these improvements were not part of the Standard? And a further problem was that the improvements were not easily experienced – you don’t want to ever have burn injury occur, and core temperature rise is often not recognized even when it is impacting safety and effectiveness. So while we knew all of this would create challenge to the acceptance of the new technology, we believed enough in what we were doing to push on, and make the effort to develop the gear.
The first fully functional garment prototypes emerged from our efforts a couple of years ago. All of our testing indicated positive outcomes for protection and comfort. I wore those prototypes in the first live fire evolutions and obstacle course efforts. We were happy enough with what we saw that we continued on, but also learned that the product was a little too stiff. So we had to redesign an already significant redesign of the turnout liner. But we knew what we needed to do, and those continued efforts have brought us to the current product.
And while the liner technology brings new levels of performance to the firefighter, it is important to recognize that it is harder to effectively incorporate this new technology into turnout gear. So it takes the dedication, expertise, and motivation of manufacturers like Globe to bring this to the firefighter in their unique turnout designs.
I’m proud of what our teams, supporting associates, and manufacturing partners have achieved. And I’m proud that despite all of the challenges to get to this point, and the challenges ahead, Gore has stayed committed to this effort. And I’m excited that this first GORE® PARALLON™ liner system will form the foundation for ongoing product innovation – a basis for Gore and Gore’s partners to bring even more improvements in safety and effectiveness to the firefighter.
Now the next leg of this journey begins.