The Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (FIERO) personal protective equipment symposium in Raleigh North Carolina last week was designed to be a factual series of presentations about the PPE that most fire fighters use on a regular basis. Last week I detailed the presentations from the first day. In this posting I will discuss the presentations from the final two days of the symposium.

In the Tuesday morning session Dr. Aitar Cocoa of NIOSH presented on his research concerning total heat loss (THL) and what it means for fire fighter PPE. He determined that for every 100 watts per meter squared increase in THL that there is a .1 degree reduction in core body temperature after one hour of work/exercise. This finding would indicate that minor differences in THL do not affect the overall heat stress on the fire fighter. The implication for PPE specification is that there is no need to be overly concerned when comparing PPE over relatively minor differences in THL. This was further emphasized in the presentation by Dr. Kevin Ross of NC State University who presented on the different methods of determining THL. The NFPA standard is based on the THL values produced in the sweating hot plate test. These values are significantly higher than what can be achieved with their sweating manikin at NC State or with human subjects. The differences can be accounted for by considering that in the product form PPE has overlapping sections, pockets, reflective strips, reinforced areas, station uniforms and undergarments that all affect the achieved THL values. In the final presentation of the morning in the research/technical forum, Casey Grant of the NFPA Research Foundation presented on the past, present and future research project being supported by the Foundation.

In the afternoon session, Kirk Owen of Tencate presented on care and storage of PPE. He emphasized the importance of routine cleaning in contributing to the effectiveness and longevity of the equipment. He spoke about the department’s significant investment in PPE and that proper care and maintenance are critical in protecting that investment. Lastly, he cautioned against cross-contamination of living areas in stations by insuring that PPE is not worn in those areas. Jeff Stull of International Personal Protection further emphasized the point of cross-contamination in his discussion of the types of contaminants that are found on PPE. He pointed out that all of today’s fires are HAZMAT incidents and should be treated as such. He urged attendees to keep PPE clean in order to prevent exposure to carcinogens.

In the second session of the afternoon Chief Dean Cox of the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department presented on the activities of Technical Correlating Committee (TCC) for Special Operations. He provided updates on the seven NFPA standards that fall under the Special Ops TCC. The afternoon session concluded with a presentation on the past present and future of the NFPA and NFPA standards by Ken Willette, NFPA Public Fire Protection Division Manager.

The Symposium concluded on Wednesday morning with a presentation by Tim Sendelbach, Editor of FireRescue magazine and Assistant chief in the North Las Vegas Fire Department. Chief Sendelbach gave a spirited presentation concerning matching PPE to today’s fire fighting environment. He pointed out that today’s fires behave differently, but fire fighting tactics have not adjusted to these changes. He postulated that PPE is putting fire fighters at risk because it allows them to stay in the fire longer than they would have in the past and that fire structures are not able to withstand the same fire load. Chief Sendelbach stated he believes the American Fire Service has an image and pride problem that makes improvement in safety difficult. He believes that fire fighters must adjust their behaviors to apply technology to where it is most needed.  The next presentation was given by Dr. Anthony Putorti of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on the issues concerning SCBA facepieces. Dr. Putorti described the process by which NIST determined the thermal requirements of the fire fighting environment and how their findings contributed to the new radiant heat test required by the new edition of NFPA 1981.

After the break, attendees heard a presentation from retired Chief Bruce Varner and Dr. Chris Spoons on electronic safety equipment. Their presentation focused primarily on improving standards for fire service radios, thermal imagers and PASS devices.

This symposium was an excellent opportunity to discuss the current research and technology improvements for PPE, but research only goes so far. Millions of dollars of federal grant money is awarded every year to fund research in fire fighters health and safety. It is critical that this limited funding is awarded to research projects that have the ability to transfer the findings to improvements that protect our members and not to projects that are simply published in peer reviewed journals and have little impact on the fire fighter on the rigs.

The IAFF will continue to support and partner with our scientific partners who are involved in these worthy projects. The IAFF will also continue to be actively involved and encourage our members to be part of the standards making process.