We are not indestructible – and neither is PPE

It is absolutely possible to exceed design limits of SCBA and protective clothing on a seemingly 'routine' structure fire

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: Researchers have uncovered temperature and heat-flow conditions that can seriously damage facepiece lenses on SCBA, a potential contributing factor for firefighter fatalities and injuries. Chief Adam K. Thiel looks at the findings of the study below.

This study raises a host of questions that we, as a fire service, need to consider about the rigors of the interior structural firefighting environment as it exists today — and as it will exist tomorrow.

As firefighters we all-too-often, and despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, assume that our gear will stand up to any conditions we might encounter on the job.

And without question, contemporary personal protective equipment , designed and tested to meet established industry standards, provides firefighters with an unprecedented level of protection to meet the hazards we face on fire and emergency incidents of all types.

However, as this research demonstrates, our PPE is not indestructible; nor are the firefighters who wear it!

It is absolutely possible to (quickly) exceed the design limits of self-contained breathing apparatus and structural firefighter protective clothing on a seemingly "routine" structure fire.

Furthermore, the way we train with, clean (or not), and maintain our gear can have a huge impact on whether or not it will protect us under "normal operating conditions," or in the worst-case scenario.

Specific to SCBA, the United States Fire Administration released a report about a decade ago that, I think, is still worth reading.

Still, in light of this NIST study, and with what we know about the built environment today, we probably need to think hard about how we're fighting fires, along with what we're wearing when we do.

Stay safe!

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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