A number of significant changes occurred in the PPE industry during 2006. Foremost among these was the introduction of the new editions for NFPA 1971 and NFPA 1994. The new 2007 edition of NFPA 1971 became effective in August and created a number of new requirements for both structural and proximity protective gear.
The most obvious of these is the Drag Rescue Device (DRD) that will be part of every coat under the new edition. This system will hopefully make it easier to rescue downed firefighters in difficult fireground environments.
Several other improvements have been made for garments, helmets, gloves, footwear and helmets used as part of the ensemble. Generally, these include changes aim to improve breathability and mobility, and lessen stress on the firefighter without sacrificing any protection.
CBRN continued to be a major buzzword in the emergency response industry. The new NFPA 1971 contains a CBRN option that allows an entire clothing ensemble, including SCBA, to be certified for additional protection against chemical, biological and radiological particulate hazards. This “systems” approach has created incentives for manufacturers to create new designs for improved protection against hazardous substances. Examples of such designs include the IAFF's/Total Fire Group's Project Heroes ensemble and Globe Firefighting Suit's CB.Ready concept. Improved integrity of garments without loss of structural firefighting capabilities will likely have the benefit of reducing firefighter exposure to a variety of hazardous materials often encountered on the fireground.
The CBRN criteria has also been applied to a totally revamped NFPA 1994, which pertains to clothing ensembles used by a range of first responders. The new classes and performance criteria set in NFPA 1994 are intended to provide practical performance and address human factors in a way that offers appropriate levels of protection consistent with the respirators that must be worn (CBRN SCBA and air-purifying respirators) during various emergency situations. A separate class has been added to address biological or particulate-only concerns. An article will be appearing in early 2007 on this subject.
Grant funds that are available to firefighters are increasingly being tied to compliance with existing standards. While some grant programs have slowed, many departments are able to submit and gain new equipment through these programs. This trend is expected to continue into 2007.