By Lee Shi-Ian
The New Straits Times
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Despite the horrific images of firemen ablaze after an explosion at an abandoned factory at the Pengkalan Chepa industrial area in Kota Baru, it was revealed yesterday that the firefighting suits worn by the victims had saved their lives.
Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said the boiler tanks which exploded as the firemen were attempting to put out the blaze drenched them in diesel.
"Fortunately, the suits protected them from further injury.
"They suffered burns to their faces and hands which were not protected by the suits," he told the New Straits Times.
He said the suits had four layers of protection.
The outer layer is made of Kevlar and Nomex, which provides thermal protection, strength and durability.
"Nomex is flame-resistant, tough and flexible. It carbonises and thickens when exposed to intense heat which increases the protective barrier between the heat source and the user," said Wan Mohd Nor.
The other three layers are insulation, moisture barrier and the lining. In the incident, the first layer had not been damaged by the fire based on the initial probe.
"If a naked flame is concentrated on the suit, it will not catch fire. In this case, however, the suits were drenched in diesel when the tanks exploded, thus continuing to burn, but were eventually carbonised by Nomex."
The firefighting suit, comprising a jacket and a pair of trousers, is made in the United Kingdom and costs RM2,000.
The helmet and boots cost RM1,800 and RM600 respectively.
The suits are tested twice before being allocated to Fire and Rescue Department personnel. In the tests, the suits, helmets and boots are exposed to heat of up to 600 degrees Celsius.
"Our firemen are given suits that fit them. The suits comply with international firefighting standards," Wan Mohd Nor said.
On Sunday morning, 39 firemen had responded to an emergency call of a fire at the abandoned factory.
The firemen thought they had the situation under control until two boiler tanks exploded.
Newspapers carried dramatic photographs of firemen on fire while colleagues went to their aid.
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