Blog Courtesy of IAFF Health and Safety staff Ron McGraw

Today, the third bi-annual Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (FIERO) personal protective equipment symposium opened in Raleigh North Carolina.

FIERO is a not-for-profit organization under the guidance of a board of directors whose purpose is to improve fire fighter health and safety by improving communication between manufacturers, researchers and standards setting organizations. The IAFF, the strongest advocate for fire fighter health and safety, is a full supporting partner of FIERO’s efforts. Attendees include representatives from fire departments, manufacturers, research and standards organizations throughout North America. Participants were given the opportunity to visit the Center for research on textile protection and comfort at North Carolina State University. There participants learned about ongoing research into protective clothing textile manufacturing as well as testing and evaluation of materials. The facility has the ability to knit or weave their own fabrics as well as treat those fabrics with fire retardant chemicals or dyes. Once the textiles have been put into a protective ensemble the facility can test the integrity of the ensemble and determine if the ensemble can meet applicable standards. The laboratory also creates new ways of testing materials to improve overall criteria for protective equipment.

Jim Juneau, a lawyer for the fire service, presented on legal issues relating to protective equipment. He discussed fire service standards of performance and how a jury determines what is a reasonable level. He sited fire department policies and procedures, nationally recognized standards, learned publications in peer-reviewed articles and expert witness testimony as the primary determinants of negligence in fire service operations. He implored attendees to speak up if their department that has sub-standard gear or maintenance practices to avoid potential liability. He believes the bain of the fire service is the perpetuation dangerous practices. He stated that not doing something about known problems can cost an officer everything they’ve worked a career to achieve.

Angie Shepherd of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health presented on the protective equipment section of the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. She pointed out that the simple phenomenon that dirty gear burns more easily and than clean gear advocating for an increased emphasis on bunker gear maintenance. She also noted the importance of conducting maintenance on bunker gear and keep records of it. She stressed the importance of wearing the appropriate gear for the hazards encountered and wearing it properly as it was designed.

Joel Calfee of IAFF Local 341, Houston, TX presented on lessons learned concerning protective equipment. He presented extensive data of bunker gear composition and where its failure points are. He pointed out that PPE is a fire fighter’s last line of defense. Therefore, he implored attendees to understand what their PPE is designed for, what it’s capabilities are and what its limitations are so as to not exceed its capabilities.