Rescue gloves: What to know before you buy
Through cross breeding with existing gloves the rescue glove has become mainstay for nonfirefighting duties
The fire service has always been an evolving business that has seen its mission and focus change in many ways over the years. Along with these changes, firefighters have developed a reputation for being adept at acquiring new skills and adapting technologies from other fields.
Two such fields are the worlds of auto-body repair and auto racing. The former provided some of the first extrication tools, such as porta-powers and air chisels. The latter gave birth to the "Jaws of Life," which were developed in the early 1960s to cut race car drivers out of wrecked cars.
One of the latest items to be co-opted by firefighters from those fields is the rescue/extrication glove. As more departments became engaged in not only vehicle extrication, but all forms of technical rescue — heavy vehicle, trench, confined space, vertical, etc. — firefighters found that a profound performance gap existed between the protection and dexterity offered by their two glove options.
Firefighting gloves — those compliant with the NFPA 1971 — offered good protection from cuts and abrasions, but at the cost of a significant loss of manual dexterity. Ordinary leather work gloves, while allowing good dexterity, often were no match for the hazards of broken glass and jagged metal.
Fits like a …
Extrication gloves are specially designed work gloves — modeled after those used by auto racing pit crews and auto body repair technicians — for first responders engaged in non-firefighting rescue and extrication tasks. These gloves provide lots of protection for the hands while also permitting manual dexterity, allowing the user a full range of motion so that he or she can assist with extrication procedures.
Mike McKenna discussed the issues of dexterity and grip, donning and doffing, and proper sizing for structural firefighting gloves. His discussion — as a member of the NFPA 1971 Technical Committee Task Group on Gloves — focused on the challenges that face designers of structural firefighting gloves in balance the fit needs of firefighters with the requirements of the standard.
McKenna's work, though focused on structural firefighting gloves, is important nonetheless because the aforementioned issues are also important to firefighters when engaged in extrication operations.
Just as it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where fire departments became involved in vehicle extrication — anecdotal accounts credit tow truck operators with being the first extrication "technicians" — so too is pinpointing when and where extrication gloves were born. Suffice it to say that rather than resulting from a birth, extrication gloves evolved from ordinary cotton and leather gloves just as NFPA 1971-compliant firefighting gloves evolved from the same gene pool.
While early models of extrication gloves used leather as the basic material for the glove's body, all of the major manufacturers of extrication gloves are now using synthetic fibers, either Kevlar of Dyneema, as the major component for their extrication gloves. Both offer five to 10 times the cut protection of leather. There are Kevlar/steel and Dyneema/steel combination gloves on the market now, offering 20 times the cut resistance of comparable-weight leather gloves.
Extrication gloves can sell for $25 to $106 per pair. With proper care according to the manufacturer's recommendations, a pair of extrication gloves will last for many years; none of the manufacturers list any product lifecycle for their gloves. Although, repeated washings have a softening affect on both Kevlar and Dyneema fibers, neither loses its cut resistance properties.
Making a selection
Today's market offers extrication gloves of every style and color and price, so what criterion is useful in selecting the right extrication gloves? In the spirit of Incident Command, let's create an Incident Action Plan for the purchase of extrication gloves:
Goal: Provide personnel with gloves specifically designed for the safe, effective and efficient conduct of non-firefighting extrication and special rescue operations.
Objectives: Provide personnel with gloves that provide:
- The requisite grip and dexterity for the operation of specialized extrication and rescue equipment, even when wet
- Ease of donning and doffing while maintaining desired grip and dexterity
- Range of glove sizes that ensure proper individual fit
- Cut resistant palm, side panels, thumb panels and finger panels to protect against such things as punctures, cuts, and abrasions
- Cuff length and closure to prevent debris from getting into the glove
- Waterproof and breathable barrier that protects against micro organisms such as TB, Hepatitis, Staph and HIV
- Protection from bodily fluid exposure, such as blood or urine, which meets the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Blood-borne Pathogens Standard 29 CFR 1910.1030
- Liquid protection from materials commonly encountered on emergency scenes, such as gasoline, diesel fuel or hydraulic fluid
If the evolution of the extrication glove to date is any indication, 10 years from now we will likely not recognize today's extrication gloves. Manufacturers of synthetic fibers are constantly working to develop lighter and stronger fabrics — expect a next generation of Kevlar and Dyneema, as well as better fabric and metal composites such as the Kevlar/steel and Dyneema/steel combinations used in today's gloves.
Along with improvements in the cut resistance of the glove's fabric, manufacturers are developing stronger lightweight materials for protection of the knuckle cage (the back of the hand) and individual knuckles. These advances will continue to improve the level of cut and abrasion protection, decrease the overall weight, and maintain or improve the level of both palm and finger dexterity.