Firefighters have extremely dangerous jobs.
They regularly put themselves at risk in order to protect other people, including entering burning buildings and exposing themselves to extreme heat, flames, and dangerous levels of smoke.
While there is no way to make this completely safe, the use of PPE helps to protect them against certain injuries and health conditions.
PPE stands for Personal Protection Equipment. An important part of a firefighters PPE is their turnout gear. But what is turnout gear?
How many layers of clothing do firefighters wear? And what kind of temperatures can the turnout gear withstand?
If you want to know more about turnout gear then keep reading. We have put together this helpful guide with all of the information you need to know.
What Is Turnout Gear?
Turnout gear, also called bunker gear, is the PPE worn by firefighters.
Firefighters have been using turnout gear for over 100 years, but it has developed over time to become more efficient and to provide better protection.
Full turnout gear tends to include trousers and suspenders, a jacket, gloves, and a hood, along with a helmet and boots.
The clothing is usually made from a blend of Kevlar and Nomex. Kevlar is a strong but lightweight material that has thermal protection properties.
Nomex is a fiber that thickens when it is exposed to heat.
These two fibers come together to form a material that protects the firefighters from heat and thickens to make an even bigger barrier between heat and the wearer.
What Is The 3 Layer System?
Fire safety regulations state that turnout gear must comply with the three layer system.
That means that there must be three distinct layers to protect the firefighter, each with its own purpose.
It must have an outer shell, a moisture barrier, and a base layer/thermal liner.
Not only are each of these layers important, but the air that is trapped between the layers also provides extra insulation and safety.
The outer shell is the most durable layer and it protects the firefighter from heat, flames, and sharp objects.
While the outer layer is not entirely impervious to combustion, it is much less flammable than other types of material.
The moisture barrier stops any liquids from coming into contact with the firefighter. This includes flammable liquids, fuels and harmful chemicals.
The firefighters need protection from any liquids that could be involved in the fire which includes the contents of chemical fire extinguishers.
The moisture barrier blocks moisture from getting in, but it allows air and moisture to come out.
This means that it is breathable so the firefighter doesn’t experience an excess of heat and sweat building up in their clothing.
The thermal liner is the part of the turnout gear that provides most of the heat protection.
This is protection not just from the heat of the direct fire, but also the ambient heat that builds up in the room or in the whole property that the fire is in.
There is a thermal face covering as well, as it is important that the whole body is protected.
Turnout Gear Performance Testing
There are multiple companies that manufacture turnout gear and PPE for firefighters.
However, all of them must meet the minimum requirements of the National Fire Protection Association.
This means that the products must go through rigorous testing before they can be sold.
These assessments test the suitability of the gear for what it will be used for and how it performs in the conditions of a fire. Here are some of the tests that are included:
Thermal Protective Performance
Thermal protective performance is used to test how well the three layers protect the firefighter from heat.
This includes the heat from the fire (radiative heat), the ambient temperature of the environment, and heat from coming into contact with hot objects (convective heat).
The minimum TPP rating as required by the NFPA is 35 - but what does this mean?
It means that it would take 17.5 seconds of exposure for the firefighter to receive a second degree burn.
The TPP value given during testing is for the whole garment, so some reinforced areas like the knees and elbows might have a higher TPP rating than what has been specified.
The flame test is another important part of the testing process.
It measures how many seconds it takes the garment to self-extinguish after it has come into contact with direct flame.
It also measures how much of the material will be left charred afterwards, so you know whether you will still be protected enough.
Heat And Thermal Shrinkage Test
The heat and thermal shrinkage test involves putting the gear into an oven set to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes.
This tests how the material responds to the heat, checking the amount of shrinkage, separation, ignition, melting, or dripping that is displayed.
In order to pass the test, the gear must still be functional after the test.
Total Heat Loss
Total heat loss measures how much heat can be taken from the body and transferred out of the garment.
This is important to understand whether the gear will help to keep the firefighter cool.
Turnout gear is an extremely important piece of equipment for firefighters.
There is no way they could tackle the large fires they do without adequate protection from heat, flames, and other injuries which can occur at the scene of a fire.
There are multiple items that make up the turnout gear, and there are also different layers with specific purposes.
Before a manufacturer is able to sell their turnout gear, it must undergo rigorous testing to ensure that it meets the requirements of the NFPA.
The better the quality of the turnout gear, the safer the firefighters will be. This is why it is so important that each fire department researches the products carefully.