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Oxymoron no more: yes, comfortable, flame-resistant station wear is out there

Discomfort used to be a price you paid for protection, but here’s how that changed


Sponsored by TenCate Protective Fabrics  

By Robert Avsec for FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff

Comfortable flame-resistant station uniforms and apparel is somewhat of an oxymoron (think of common contradictory terms in our everyday life like jumbo shrimp or farewell receptions). What all of these have in common is that they sound good in theory, but the reality is much different.

TenCate Protective Fabrics’s station wear maintains the same level of fire-resistive qualities as Nomex against melting, dripping, or charring even after multiple washings. (image/Tencate Protective Fabrics)
TenCate Protective Fabrics’s station wear maintains the same level of fire-resistive qualities as Nomex against melting, dripping, or charring even after multiple washings. (image/Tencate Protective Fabrics)

Why flame-resistant workwear?

Most fire departments work diligently to provide their people with the best structural firefighting PPE. But that’s just one level of protection. What about what those firefighters wear under their PPE?

One of the bigger challenges a fire chief faces is ensuring that employees or members wear their PPE and flame-resistant clothing. Previous generations of work uniforms made with flame-resistant fabrics were either too stiff or uncomfortable. Or they were too loose and gave us a slovenly appearance after several washings. So, firefighters didn’t like the former and fire chiefs didn’t like the latter.

Behind the flame-resistant technology in fabrics

Today, flame-resistant fabrics can be used to create crisp and professional-looking traditional station uniforms that retain their flame-resistant capability and tailored appearance wash after wash. And they’re comfortable.

Previous generations of flame-resistant work apparel—which is how station uniforms and clothing are addressed in NFPA 1975: Standard on Emergency Services Work Apparel (2019 Edition)—were mostly made from Nomex fabric. While their flame-resistant characteristics were great, they weren’t that comfortable, and mobility was often a challenge.

“So, when departments started to make that transition from non-FR station wear to FR station wear their people complained that the material was stiff and hot and uncomfortable,” said Bart McCool, end use marketing manager at TenCate Protective Fabrics. “Which is why even today probably less than 50 percent of fire departments use flame-resistant clothing for their personnel.”

Comfort and movement are the two things firefighters want in their station wear.

“When we work with firefighters evaluating our different fabrics in their work apparel in wear-ability tests, they consistently tell us that comfort and movement are what’s important to them,” said McCool.

Here’s how Tencate’s stationwear fabric differs

The technology of flame-resistant fabrics has seen so many innovations in recent years that many of the reasons for fire departments not to use work apparel made with flame-resistant fabrics are no longer valid. TenCate’s premiere fabrics, Tecasafe Plus and TenCate TechT4, are built with fibers or polymers that have inherent  flame-resistant characteristics meaning that their flame-resistance comes from the essential characteristics of the fiber or polymer. And that means that TenCate Protective Fabrics’s station wear maintains the same level of fire-resistive qualities as Nomex against melting, dripping, or charring even after multiple washings.

“That also applies to the appearance of work apparel,” said McCool. “Colors don’t fade, and the work apparel retains its appearance after multiple launderings.”

Just as importantly, work apparel using TenCate fabrics are made to be more comfortable than your standard station wear.  TenCate fabric engineers used over 90 years of technical textile science to create a unique attribute, Coolderm Technology.

“Coolderm Technology derives from the different fibers that make up the yarn used in Tecasafe Plus and TechT4. Some fibers are hydrophilic and they attract water,” said McCool. “And other fibers used are hydrophobic and they repel water. So, moisture is dispersed over a wider area faster to promote quicker evaporation. This is something that Nomex fabrics never had.”

Work apparel made using Tecasafe Plus fabric keeps the wearer more comfortable by:

  • Absorbing sweat into the fabric at skin level;
  • Quickly spreading that moisture out to promote faster evaporation; and
  • Creating faster evaporation that means the wearer stays cooler on the job.

“So, whether it’s a woven uniform shirt or a knitted t-shirt it does a better job of wicking moisture away from you when you’re sweating,” said McCool. “And that improved wicking is what we feel really sets our work apparel apart from the competition.”

More station wear options for those who like diversity

Over the years, many fire departments have opted for a more contemporary—and comfortable—work apparel option with personnel donning t-shirts with great graphics that help publicize the department and readily identify the wearer as a firefighter. And those same departments were likely looking at some savings as uniform costs rose, and their budgets shrank. So, many departments felt they had to sacrifice flame-resistance to get those other benefits.

But no longer. The fabrics that TenCate offers can be used in work apparel that includes long and short sleeve uniform shirts, uniform pants, three-button knit polo shirts, t-shirts and more, including dormitory and training wear. And fire departments don’t have to break their budget to provide their personnel with TenCate work apparel.

According to McCool, t-shirts knitted using Tecasafe Plus yarn last five times longer than a comparable non-flame-resistant t-shirt.

“So, let’s say your department is currently paying $20 for a non-FR t-shirt and one of ours costs roughly $60, but you have to replace that $20 t-shirt 5 times,” said McCool. “The math shows that you’ve just spent $40 less keeping that firefighter in a flame-resistant t-shirt.

Choosing work apparel made with TenCate Tecasafe Plus means you no longer must sacrifice comfort, appearance, or durability to have your department’s personnel protected. Because what they wear under their structural firefighting PPE does matter.

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