Research to Improve Turnout Gear for Women

By Susan Sokolowski, PhD – Director & Associate Professor, Sports Product Design, at University of Oregon Portland and Linsey Griffin, PhD – Assistant Professor Wearable Product Design, Human Dimensioning Lab at the College of Design, University of Minnesota

The Size FF Research project is sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
(https://www.nimss.org/projects/view/mrp/outline/18359) and consists of academic experts from the fields of anthropometrics and product design. The group’s focus since 1982 has been on the development of better performing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

iWomen Partnership

Through a partnership with the 2018 International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services (iWomen) conference directors, the research team adopted a user-centered approach to understand the PPE needs of female firefighters. A protocol was developed to collect 3D scans of the hands and feet, along with 1:1 interviews where female firefighter attendees shared information about their experience as firefighters and the practice of using turnout gear (coats, pants, glove, boots, and accessories).

User-Centered Approach

The user-centered approach considers the user (e.g. firefighter) throughout the research and design process, so their input is always considered (Vos, 2009). The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), through their standard 9241-210, have published principles regarding using a human-centered design process. Those principles include:

1. The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks, and environments.
2. Users are involved throughout design and development.
3. The design is driven and refined by user-centered evaluation.
4. The process is iterative.
5. The design addresses the whole user experience.
6. The design team includes multi-disciplinary skills and perspectives (ISO, 2010).

The benefits of a user-centered approach have been proven to produce successful products and policies. By using this approach to understand female firefighters and their PPE, the research team hopes to address ways to decrease injury rates and save lives through new PPE development for women.

Data Collection

To date, fifty-three global female career and volunteer firefighters from urban, state or federal wildland agencies, EMTs, paramedics, inspectors, dispatchers, and fire service educators have participated in the research. Of those participants, all have had foot and hand scans. Thirty-one female firefighters participated in 1:1 interviews regarding turnout gear. Currently, the 3D scan data is being measured, and interview data is being coded for analysis. Once the analyses are completed, the team will develop recommendations to manufacturers for future product development.

Collaborating with the iWomen organization for this research was an invaluable partnership.  In 2019, the research team plans to continue collecting data at the FDIC conference in Indiana.

Get Involved

The Size FF Research team is looking for U.S. firefighters to participate in this study by completing a short turnout gear survey at https://cornell.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6SbiPQx44NrmdDf. No information that may make participants identifiable will be included in any sort of publishable material.