In What GEAR [PPE] are YOU Responding?
During a live fire burn evolution at the LCFA burn facility, several individuals suffered thermal [steam] burns. An investigation into the incident revealed that the PPE (personal protective equipment) they were wearing was not suitable for the evolutions in which they were participating. Further examination into the incident revealed that the PPE was designed for forest fire and brush fire fighting. Although the injuries were not major .......... they were however, painful. The on-site medic unit treated the firefighters and training continued without their participation. So, having said that, in what type of gear are you and your department's firefighters responding?
The extents of their burns were first degree most likely caused by steam from fire extinguishment. For general information purposes published according to experts at several burn centers, there are SIX (6) Degrees of Burns to humans.
First degree burns and most common, redness, from hot water and sunburn (first aid: cool water). Second degree burns present themselves as blisters, typically caused by flames, chemical or hot liquids (first aid similar to first with added antiseptic if prescribed). Third degree burns, commonly a result of electricity, chemical and or fire, skin may be blackened, nerves destroyed; victim may go into shock (immediate medical attention is necessary). Fourth degree burn, skin is burned and also the underlying muscle is damaged; survival will require skin grafting (immediate medical attention is required). Fifth & Sixth degree burns are most often diagnosed during an autopsy. Survival is unlikely.
When you are burned, you are burned for life. Physical and psychological scars are life-altering. Smoke alarms and SPRINKLER systems alert occupants to a fire/smoke condition and give us the edge [by holding the fire in-check]to escape the life-threating situation. Live burn tests document that from the ignition of a fire and the free burning of the ignited material three (3) minutes is all that “we” have to get out and stay out. Temperatures in the structure can quickly escalate to 900 degrees C or more.
As a fire evolves, it grows exponentially (Xs itself) for every minute that it is left unchecked. A quick calculation means that what is burning at 3 minutes will grow in intensity times-itself by a factor of itself.
NFPA 1971-2013 Edition (compliant number, not date) sets the minimum guidelines for design, performance, testing, and certification of the elements of the ensemble (turnout gear) for body protection in structural fire-fighting and proximity fire-fighting. This includes coats, trousers, one-piece suits, hoods, gloves, footwear, and interfaces such as wrist bands and neck protection. This edition (1971-2013) was approved as an American National Standard (ANSI) on August 29, 2012. As a result of testing and evaluation into burn [prevention] there is a new standardized test method titled ASTM F 2371.
This document addresses footwear, garment design and composition as well as performance requirements.
NFPA 1977, 2011 Edition, addresses Protective Clothing for Wild Land Fire Fighting. Stated in the document is sizing requirements for protective upper and lower torso garments using temperatures of 260 degrees C or less.
These afore stated fire-fighting evolutions are by no means similar and they must be treated differently/independently.
The next document researched was NFPA 1851. It addresses turnout gear (PPE, bunker gear, fire gear) cleaning, inspection, repair and record keeping. This document was developed to reduce the safety risks and potential health hazards related to PPE. Of noted importance in these documents is their bearing on liability issues and potential workman's compensation cases.
NFPA 1851 clearly defines procedures and responsibilities of cleaning, decontamination, and the proper repair of turnout gear (ensembles). 1851 makes it very clear of what "should not be done", "shall not be", and "do not"! These statements are guides and measures to prevent damage to equipment, contamination and importantly, liability. Remember, hazardous waste and toxins can be transported in/on contaminated turnout gear.
Case in-point: when returning from a vehicle incident, crash or fire, do all responding firefighters thoroughly clean their gear, especially their boots? Consider this, oil or gasoline residue on a firefighter's boot gets tracked into a structure fire (floor/carpet); a necessary test for flammable/combustible liquids by a GC/MS (gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer reveals hydrocarbons that should not be present where they are discovered; incendiary act or gasoline/oil residual on a firefighter's boots from a previous incident?
In 2008, NFPA 1851 was initially "released" to require fire departments, of any size, remove all gear from service that has a manufacture date of 10 years or older. Turnout gear subjected to this requirement includes helmets, hoods, ensembles (gear), gloves and boots. Also, consider the frequency of usage [severe to light].
The reasoning behind this measure was to insure to the best ability that the gear was serviceable and its ability to protect the wearer was acceptable as per the recommendations in NFPA 1851.
So, in what gear are you and “your” fellow firefighters responding [in]?
Ed Knight is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI/CFII) and a fire instructor; a retired municipal assistant fire marshal, forensic investigator having investigated several thousand fires and testified over 60 times throughout the United States and several foreign countries. He is Chairman of the Live Burn Facility, Pequea Lane, Lancaster, PA.