There's probably no single piece of firefighting protective clothing that arouses more passionate discussions among firefighters than gloves. Proper fit, manual dexterity and overall durability are usually the primary topics of those discussions.
When a firefighter finds that glove that meets his or her expectations for all three, it's almost like winning the lottery. And the odds of hitting the lottery sometimes seem better. It's one reason why, when they find the glove, they'll wear it until it falls off their hands, much to the consternation of their company officer or chief.
Glove manufacturers are an optimistic group of folks who diligently keep at their search for the perfect glove with the same commitment that Ponce de Leon demonstrated in his quest to find the fountain of youth.
Working within the parameters of NFPA 1971: Standards on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2007 Edition, those manufacturers continually seek to balance those primary desires of firefighters—fit, dexterity, and durability — against the thermal and mechanical protection requirements of NFPA 1971.
Right now there is a delay in getting newer glove models into the marketplace. The 2013 edition of NFPA 1971 came out in August 2012; however, the section pertinent to structural firefighting gloves is currently on hold. Manufacturers are hesitant to submit new glove models to the product testing labs until that section is released and those new gloves can be certified to its requirements.
In the meantime, there have been several advances in structural firefighting gloves that have already been certified using NFPA 1971, 2007.
The biggest improvements recently have been to the dexterity and the fit for structural firefighting gloves. Newer gloves incorporate curvature-fitting, that is, coming out of the box the glove has more of the natural curvature of the human hand.
Glove designers have also created the three-dimensional glove by eliminating the fingertip seams and bulky seams between the fingers. These improvements make it easier for a firefighter to change channels on his or her radio, put the gloves on or take them off when they are wet, or put on a helmet and breathing apparatus while wearing them.
Firefighters should keep in mind, however, the necessary balance between fit features and protection features that the glove manufacturers constantly struggle to achieve. Everyone likes a glove that fits well, however, gloves that are overly snug initially — with the wearer anticipating a proper fit after they’ve broken in the gloves — offer less thermal protection because of decreased trapped air for insulating purposes. The same holds true for properly fit gloves that become tight from shrinkage after getting wet and drying out.
"Firefighters don't expect their turnout coat and pants to fit like Under Armour because they understand that tight fitting turnouts would not offer acceptable protection. Firefighting gloves are no different," said Tom Ragan, president of Shelby Specialty Gloves.
Several current models demonstrate these improved features.
Dragon Fire Products offers Dragonfire Alpha, that sells for $70 to $80, and Fireman's Shield Alpha X that sells for $80 to $90. The Fireman's Shield gloves' main heat protection comes from its Kovenex liner, not the leather, resulting in a thinner, softer glove, which the manufacturer claims does not compromise the thermal protection rating (60+).
Fire Hooks Unlimited's leather ESKA brand gloves sell for $125 to $140. ESKA uses a Kevlar/Silver Blend liner to provide heat and cut protection that is also anti-odor, anti-fungal, anti-static, and thermodynamic. Protection against blood-borne pathogens, fluids, chemicals, and water is provided by a Crosstech membrane. ESKA has been making structural firefighting gloves in Europe, where the standards are even higher than those of NFPA, since 1912 and has begun marketing its products in the U.S. during the past few years.
The ESKA fabric gloves sell for $125 to $140. This glove uses a lightweight, fire resistant Kermel, an aramid material that does not retain water and dries faster than leather. A silicone-carbon coated Kevlar reinforcement is used on the palm and knuckles to provide additional heat and cut resistance.
The Fire-Dex FDX G1 costs $80 to $90. It has a full-grain leather shell and a Kovenex-R thermal liner. Its TPP rating is 60+.
Shelby Specialty Gloves' FDP series sells for $75 to $85. These gloves uses pigskin, cowhide and elk hide for the glove shell in its various models and features the Gore RT7100 Glove Barrier Fabric for the vapor barrier.
LION's newest model, the Commander, has a Kovendex thermal liner and a TPP rating of 60+. The back of the hand is made of three pieces to improve grip, stretching and knuckle protection.
Care and maintenance
For all the components of the structural firefighting ensemble, gloves take the brunt of abuse during firefighting operations. Proper care and cleaning helps preserve the glove's fit and shape, maintain the glove's thermal protection properties and extend its lifecycle.
The manufacturers put a lot of effort into the design and production of their products. And they put a similar amount of effort into testing — dare I say systematic abuse. Therefore, their recommendations on care and cleaning are going to be based upon what they've determined works best to maintain the glove's integrity.
To hold you over until you can locate the specific recommendations for care and cleaning from the manufacturer of your gloves, here are some good general guidelines.
- If gloves have been exposed to toxic or corrosive chemicals or petroleum products, segregate them from the other gear until it can be determined if they can be properly decontaminated or if they require disposal.
- If gloves are contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids, segregate them from the other gear until you can consult and follow your department's infection-control policy regarding decontamination of equipment.
- Use a stiff brush with plastic bristles, like a tire brush, to remove as much surface debris as possible from the gloves before washing.
- Scrub the shell of the glove using the stiff brush and a mild soap solution. Saddle soap, available at most shoe stores, is specially formulated to gently clean leather. Saddle soap also helps preserve the natural oils in the glove's leather, an important component for extending the life of the glove. Avoid harsh soaps or industrial cleaning agents as these have the opposite affect on the preservation of oil in the leather.
- Avoid cleaning agents that use bleach or oxygenated cleaners that contain sodium percarbonate or sodium carbonate, such as OxyClean, as these agents will degrade the aramid fibers, such as Kevlar, Kovenex or Kermel.
- Air dry the gloves or dry them using a low-temperature dryer like a commercial hose dryer, to avoid glove shrinkage.