Fire Fighters Protective Clothing:
As we previously informed our membership, the manufacturer of BREATHE-TEX® moisture barriers used in fire fighters’ protective clothing has alerted protective clothing manufacturers using their product that this product is degrading in the field. The manufacturer, Aldan Engineered Coated Fabrics, states that the moisture barrier should be replaced if evidence of such breakdown has occurred.
The IAFF continues to believe that this situation may pose a significant safety hazard to fire fighters. Not only does the moisture barrier provide primary protection from water. it provides primary protection from many common liquids. Those liquids include some common chemicals and bloodborne pathogens encountered during the normal performance of fire fighting duties. These duties include structural fire fighting operations, aircraft rescue and fire operations, extrication of victims from vehicles and other entrapment situations, provision of first responder or emergency medical care and other fire fighting and rescue situations.
Since issuing our original Alert, Mountain View Manufacturing (Quest Enterprises, Inc.) has joined The Total Fire Group (Morning Pride Manufacturing) in offering their customers a recall of Breath-Tex at no cost to the customer. Two additional manufacturers, Starfield Safetywear and Bristol Uniforms North America have informed the IAFF that they have never used the BREATHE-TEX® product. We believe that a product recall and replacement is the right stand on this issue and all manufacturers of fire fighters’ protective clothing should follow suit and initiate such a product recall.
Unfortunately, such is not the case.
On November 15, the manufacturers of Body-Guard (Lion Apparel), Cairns Protective Clothing (Globe), Fire-Dex, Fire-Gear (Securitex), Globe Firefighter Suits, Janesville (Lion Apparel), Quaker Safety, and Securitex Brands of fire fighters protective clothing issued the following Joint Statement regarding the wear life of moisture barriers. Their full statement follows:
The IAFF strongly believes that this is the wrong course of action and places the fire fighter at risk. Just as Aldan has passed the responsibility for inspection and correction to the protective clothing manufacturers, this Joint Statement passes the responsibility to the fire department that purchased these manufacturers’ clothing. Although the manufactures are honoring their warranties on individual garment failures, these are often only within a one-year warranty period.
The IAFF has been a continual strong proponent of inspection, maintenance of and, when necessary, replacement of fire fighters protective clothing to assure the protection of the fire fighter that the garment was to provide. Accordingly, we agree with the Joint Statement regarding regular garment inspection. However, premature product failure demands a recall and replacement.
The Joint Statement also fails to recognize the critical uses of moisture barrier product other then as a liner. Moisture barrier product is used in all closure and interface areas (i.e., facings) to provide complete and circumferential protection to the fire fighter. For these reasons, the NFPA 1971, Standard on Structural Fire Fighting Protective Ensemble requires a full shower test to determine compliance of the liner and all such facings. Spot-checking with a 1/2 cup of water demonstrates nothing, except when the product fails this simplistic test. In recognition of Aldan’s statement, that the problem is not observable by routine visual inspection, and the failure to address closure and interface areas, "passing" the one-half cup of water test means very little. Accordingly, this product must be replaced. Further, we are only aware of degradation of Aldan’s BREATHE-TEX®. This polyurethane product is a non-crosslinked microporus polymer membrane that is laminated to a fabric, usually NOMEX E-89®.
Since this issue surfaced, the fire service has been bombarded with unfamiliar technical terms regarding moisture barriers. Following is a summary of moisture barrier product technology.
There are three types of moisture barrier product technology used today in fire fighters protective garments. These include using membranes that are microporous, monolithic, or bi-component.
A microporous membrane contains small passages (holes) allowing for minute air permeability and thus offers water vapor transfer (breathability) by air-diffusion. A non-crosslinked polyurethane polymer is used for the microporous moisture barrier product BREATHE-TEX®, as well as the PORELLE®, PROLINE® and VAPRO® products. Another product, TETRATEX®, is a microporous polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membrane (TEFLON®) that is coated with silicone. These microporous membranes are laminated (glued) to a base fabric such as NOMEX E-89® or the BASOFIL® product VILENE®.
A monolithic membrane is a continuous polymer layer without any passages (holes), and, therefore, does not have any air permeability. Nonbreathable monolithic moisture barrier products include neoprene (NEOGUARD®) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Nonbreathable neoprene moisture barriers are still used in the fire service. However, the new edition of NFPA 1971 (2000 edition) has a breathability performance requirement that will eliminate their use. Nonbreathable PVC moisture barriers, while used in Europe, were not used in protective garments for the U.S. and Canadian fire service.
Breathable monolithic moisture barrier products use hydrophilic polymers (i.e., a water loving material that has a strong affinity for, and the ability to absorb water) that allow water vapor transfer (breathability) through molecular diffusion. Once water vapor contacts the hydrophilic polymer, it permeates through the polymer one molecule at a time. Cross-linked polyurethane polymers often are found in monolithic moisture barriers used by the fire service. Cross-linking is a polymer chemistry term that describes the stabilization of the polymer through additives. The chemical process connects the polymer’s molecular chains through molecular bridges. Cross-linking of polymers can increase the product’s thermal stability. Typically, increased cross-linking can also reduce breathability and increase stiffness of the final product. Monolithic moisture barrier products using polyurethane include BREATHE-TEX PLUS® and STEDAIR 2000®.
Other polymers are used for breathable monolithic moisture barrier products, including polyamides and co-polyesters. Monolithic moisture barrier products using co-polyesters are not typically used in the fire service for protective clothing moisture barriers; however, the co-polyester product SYMPATEX® is used as a moisture barrier in protective footwear. A monolithic moisture barrier product using polyamides is STEDAIR 82®.
These polymers are usually coated onto a base fabric such as Nomex E-89. There are two typical coating methods used for moisture barrier products. With cast-coating the polymer resin is applied over the base fabric and cured by heated casting drums. In direct coating, also called knife-over-roll, the liquid polymer is spread on a moving base fabric supported by a roller system by a stationary knife; the gap between the knife and the fabric determines the coating thickness.
A bi-component moisture barrier product uses a combination of microporous and monolithic technologies, and allows no air permeability. There are two methods to combine this technology, intimate and layered.
An intimate bi-component moisture barrier product uses a monolithic polymer that is impregnated into a microporous membrane. Intimate bi-component membranes include GORE-TEX® and CROSSTECH®. These products use a microporous expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) membrane (TEFLON®) that is monolithically impregnated with cross-linked polyurethane. The membrane is laminated (glued) to a base fabric such as NOMEX E89® or NOMEX® ripstop (i.e. pajama check).
A layered bi-component moisture barrier product uses a monolithic polymer that is placed either on top of or below the microporous membrane. AQUATECHTM uses a base fabric that is laminated to a microporous membrane and than coated with a thin monolithic layer. COMFORT ZONE® uses a base fabric that is coated with a monolithic layer with a microporous layer on top. These layered bi-component membranes use a base fabric such as NOMEX® E-89 or the BASOFIL® product VILENE®.
Most fire service breathable moisture barrier products, as described above, use polyurethane technology due to this polymer’s ability to be made hydrophilic. The challenging issue with hydrophilic polyurethanes is producing a moisture barrier product that is hydrophilic but that still maintains thermal and durable properties. Different degrees of polymer cross-linking are often used to create a balance in these properties, as are different construction technologies with microporous and monolithic layers.
Because the moisture barrier products described above use different polymer and construction techniques, research is continuing to determine whether the performance problems demonstrated with BREATHE-TEX® (especially cracking, flaking and leaking) are applicable to other moisture barrier products. Currently, there are no indications or field reports that other monolithic or bi-component moisture barrier products are experiencing the same degradation performance problems. However, the IAFF is attempting to determine if the BREATHE-TEX® problem also exists in the similar microporous products VAPRO®, PORELLE®, and PROLINE®. Porvair International, Ltd. manufactures PORELLE®, which is sold in the United Kingdom (and in the United States as a moisture barrier membrane for fire fighter gloves). Porvair has licensed its microporous membrane technology to Aldan, which markets this product in the United States as BREATHE-TEX®, to Dominion Textile which markets this product in Canada as VAPRO® and to Lanair de Picardie, which markets this product in France as PROLINE®.
Some of these moisture barrier products are no longer being marketed to the fire service protective clothing manufacturers. BREATHE-TEX® has not been sold to the garment manufactures since the spring of 1999, but they may still be available to the fire service. In the case of BREATHE-TEX®, protective clothing manufacturers may have protective garments in stock that were constructed of this material. Also, there may be considerable numbers of protective garments that use BREATHE-TEX® in their distribution network. Fire departments must be made aware of this and must not accept any products that contain BREATHE-TEX®. The IAFF is also aware that some protective clothing manufacturers have used BREATHE-TEX® as facings (e.g., in front closures, cuffs, and liner interface areas). We believe this was done at a cost saving, where a more expensive moisture barrier liner (e.g., CROSSTECH®) was specified but the manufacturer used a cheaper product (in this case BREATHE-TEX®) as the facing. If the BREATHE-TEX® facing provides part of the circumferential protection, then it must be replaced. Also, fire departments should check their purchase specifications to make sure that such substitutions are not allowed.
We will continue to inform you of any new technical information on this issue and any new actions of the protective clothing manufacturers and the certifying organization.
AQUATECHTM is a trademark of
Coated Fabrics, International.
November 12, 1999
Fire Fighters Protective Clothing:
The IAFF has been informed that the manufacturer of BREATHE-TEX® moisture barriers used in fire fighters’ protective clothing has alerted protective clothing manufacturers using their product that this product is degrading in the field. The manufacturer, Aldan Engineered Coated Fabrics, states that the moisture barrier should be replaced if evidence of such breakdown has occurred.
The IAFF believes that this may pose a significant safety hazard to fire fighters. Not only does the moisture barrier provide primary protection from water; it provides primary protection from many common liquids, including some common chemicals, and from bloodborne pathogens encountered during the normal performance of fire fighting duties. These duties include structural fire fighting operations, aircraft rescue and fire operations, extrication of victims from vehicles and other entrapment situations, provision of first responder or emergency medical care and other fire fighting and rescue situations.
Additionally, the moisture barrier provides protection from scald-type injuries, including those caused by wetting of an already heated garment, steam jet exposure, and saturated water vapor atmospheres. The moisture barrier also provides protection from cold injuries, including the prevention of water intrusion into the moisture barrier resulting in loss of function and comfort.
The following is the text of the letter sent to manufacturers from Aldan Engineered Coated Fabrics:
Fire Service Letter for
Our investigations suggest that the garments may have been subject to attack possibly resulting from storage conditions, length of service, care, and/or maintenance. We have striven to determine the cause of the degradation, but have not been able to replicate the condition. We are of course continuing to investigate the cause/s of this issue and will keep you fully informed of our progress.
For any of your customers currently using a BREATHE-TEX® moisture barrier, we recommend advising them of a potential problem and to have their gear checked. Where there is evidence that breakdown has occurred, we recommend the moisture barrier be replaced.
We regret any problems caused by this unforeseen condition.
Wearing of fire fighter protective clothing that use BREATHE-TEX® as a functional element in protective clothing, including moisture barriers and garment interface elements (facings) may jeopardize the health and safety of fire fighters. Accordingly, the IAFF has also contacted the certification organization, Underwriters Laboratories, and requested an immediate investigation of malperformance and failure of this product in the field. The following is the text of letter sent to Underwriters Laboratories:
November 12, 1999
Dear Mr. Castino,
On November 3, 1999, Aldan Engineered Coated Fabrics informed their fire service manufacturing customers of the field degradation of their product and that the degraded moisture barriers be replaced.
In accordance with section 2-2.8 of the standard, we request that UL initiate a field investigation of these reports of malperformance and failure.
Section 2-2.8 states:
The certification organization shall have a program for investigating field reports alleging malperformance or failure of listed products.
Upon completion of the investigation, and if supported by the investigation, we insist that UL require and enforce a recall on these defective products which bear the UL mark of certification in accordance with Sections 2-2.9 and 2-2.11 of NFPA 1971, which state:
2-2.9 The certification organization shall require the manufacturer to have a product recall system a s part of the manufacturer’s quality assurance program.
2-2,11 The certification organization shall be in a position to use legal means to protect the integrity of its name and label.
We are fully aware that the certification procedures conducted by UL address the certification of new products. However, the above-cited sections clearly address field failure of certified components with recall mechanisms to effect their removal from service. The fire service and the American public have come to depend on UL certification as a symbol of product safety. We are certain that UL will fulfill its obligations in this matter. As employee representatives of product users whose lives are potentially jeopardized by this product we request a copy of the investigation report and notification of any actions by UL, which follow from the investigation.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if we may be of assistance in this matter.
All fire departments should have their protective clothing checked to determine the presence of BREATHE-TEX® moisture barriers and facings. If this cannot be determined by inventory tracking or by the product label, the clothing manufacturer must be contacted. Remember, this is a problem with the moisture barrier and facing components, and is not particular to any clothing manufacturer.
The manufacturers of protective clothing are now developing their response to address this issue. As of today (11/12/99), we are aware that one manufacturer, Total Fire Group (Morning Pride Clothing), has initiated a full recall of their garments from inventory and from the field that use BREATHE-TEX® moisture barriers. We will keep you informed of the actions of other protective clothing manufacturers. The following is a list of manufacturers of protective clothing in the United States and Canada: