To be a firefighter, you need to be well-equipped. Your gear is your lifeline when you’re on the job, and it’s what helps you get through each day safely. However, some firefighters are still unaware of how vital their protective equipment (PPE) is for their safety.
If you don’t have suitable PPE for the job, then there’s no way that you can do your best work as a firefighter. A recent interview revealed that almost 90% of firefighters wear PPE except for the hood and the station uniform.
The Nature of Firefighting
Firefighting is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Firefighters are exposed to many hazards, including:
- Heat and flames
- Toxic gasses and dust
- Electrical shocks
These hazards can be particularly severe when fighting fires involving chemicals or radioactive materials at industrial sites. That’s why firefighters tend to contract diseases due to the presence of chemicals released from the fire. Over 4% are at risk of a cancer diagnosis, which is higher than the general population. This means firefighters must take extra care when protecting themselves from these dangers.
Importance of Using PPE
PPE is a firefighter’s best friend. Without it, there would be many more injuries and fatalities in the field. PPE is so crucial to our job that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that all fire departments provide their firefighters with proper protection at all times.
The three most important pieces of PPE are SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), turnout gear, and gloves.
Here are some things PPE can protect firefighters from:
Protection Against Hazardous Materials
As a firefighter, you will likely encounter many hazards during work. Chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) materials are some of the most common threats. The following are examples of PPE used by firefighters to protect against CBR hazards:
- SCBA provides an air supply for breathing in environments with oxygen-deficient atmospheres or where toxic gasses exist. It also protects against heat stress during firefighting operations. The global SCBA market was valued at $ 1.12 billion in 2022 and growing fast, showing demand.
- A protective helmet protects from falling objects such as ceiling tiles or beams.
- Gloves protect hands from burns caused by hot surfaces such as fire trucks’ exhaust pipes.
- Boots keep feet safe from sharp objects such as broken glass while walking through rubble after a fire has been extinguished.
Hazardous materials inside the firefighting foams can also protect you from cancer. In fact, toxic chemicals from Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) have been linked to several cancers. According to TorHoerman Law, some cancers include kidney, testicular, pancreatic, bladder, liver, breast, prostate, and others.
Many firefighters facing such issues have also filed lawsuits against the manufacturers for failing to inform them about these potential health issues.
According to the recent AFFF lawsuit update, over 4,000 lawsuits have been filed. These lawsuits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL). The suit is ongoing, and many lawyers nationwide are accepting clients.
Protection From Heat and Flames
As a firefighter, you’re at risk of heat stress and burns. PPE can help protect you from these hazards.
- Firefighting helmets protect your head from falling debris and impact with objects that may occur during firefighting operations. They also reduce the radiant heat that reaches your head by reflecting it away from the skin’s surface. This helps reduce the risk of thermal injury to the brain. The NextGen Firefighter Helmet project, which is underway, will further improve the quality and level of protection for firefighters.
- Gloves: The gloves worn by firefighters should be made of leather or another material that provides good insulation against heat while still allowing skill in handling tools and other materials used around the fire scene.
As a firefighter, you will be exposed to many different hazards. Whether it’s fighting a fire or doing training exercises, there are many ways to get hurt. PPE can help prevent some of these injuries by protecting your body from heat exhaustion and stroke, burns, eye injuries, and respiratory problems.
PPE includes helmets and masks that protect the head, boots or shoes with steel toes, gloves made from Kevlar or other materials, etc.
Increased Visibility and Identification
Being visible to other firefighters is crucial because they can’t see you if you are not. In addition, many different types of PPE can help increase your visibility and identification.
For example, firefighting helmets have lights that flash when the firefighter turns their head or moves a certain way. This helps everyone else know exactly where each firefighter is located within their sector of responsibility.
It’s also helpful for firefighters to wear reflective clothing so that they are more easily seen by other members of their department or even civilians outside the fireground who may need help. This can prove lifesaving during emergencies.
Types of Personal Protective Equipment for Firefighters
PPE is a set of clothing, equipment, and accessories that protect firefighters from the hazards they face on the job. Types of firefighter PPE include:
- turnout gear
- helmets and hoods
- gloves and boots
PPE Maintenance and Inspection
It is vital to maintain your PPE and inspect it after every use. You can do this by cleaning and checking your gear before each shift and after any fire or high-heat incident. If you find any damage or deterioration, it’s time to get a new piece of equipment.
You should also check all parts of your PPE for missing parts or fasteners. This is especially true if you’re using older equipment that may have been damaged over time by heat, chemicals, or fire exposure. In addition to inspecting the condition of the material itself, look for signs that might indicate wear and tear.
Advances in Firefighter PPE
There are many advances in firefighter PPE. One of the most important is the increased use of Nomex and other flame-resistant fabrics, which have replaced cotton as a significant component of firefighter uniforms. This change has resulted in more lightweight and comfortable clothing that provides better protection from fire and heat than traditional cotton uniforms.
Another significant development is improved helmet designs that provide better protection against impact injuries to the head while still allowing firefighters to hear commands from their superiors during an emergency. Other improvements include:
- Improved gloves made with Kevlar or other materials that protect hands from sharp objects while providing dexterity for handling equipment or making rescues
- Better boots with steel toes for added protection against falling objects
Firefighters are the unsung heroes of our communities, and they deserve to be recognized as such. The firefighting job is not easy, but it’s also one of our most important. It requires dedication, courage, and determination on behalf of every firefighter who goes into battle against these dangerous blazes. With all these things in mind, it’s no wonder these brave men and women need protection from their uniforms to stay safe while doing their job.