Firefighter PPE gets facelift

The zip-out outer shell may be the most eye-catching feature of this turnout gear system, but it is not the only one

Those attending this year's Fire-Rescue International got a look at Viking's turnout gear system set to hit the market near the end of this year. And it's worth a close look.

The gear was built on the idea of separating firefighters from toxins as soon as possible and isolating those toxins. It works like this: firefighters coming off fire or other event that exposed their PPE to toxins shed the ensembles' outer shell and stow it in a bio-hazard bag before getting on the rig to return to the firehouse.

A zippered system makes it possible to remove the shell while still wearing the liner. A second, clean shell can be zipped on allowing the firefighter to return to service for the next call.

The bio-hazard bag with the contaminated outer shell is put straight into a PPE washing machine. The bag dissolves during the wash process. This, company officials say, drastically cuts a firefighter's exposure to fireground toxins by keeping them away from the body and out of the fire truck and station.

Ken Crouch, Viking's fire segment manager and a retired firefighter with more than 20 years, said the company wants to keep the price competitive with other PPE. A full pant and coat set will run $1,900, with a spare outer shell selling for $700 to $800 — the bio-hazard bags can be bought in bulk for less than $1 each.

The system is being beta tested by six fire departments. Viking had planned to bring the gear to market this fall, but the testing departments asked for additional time with the PPE.

Crouch said it will take until November or December to have the final design changes made from the test results and to get final NFPA approval. Viking is ready for large-scale manufacturing and simply waiting to clear those last hurdles, he said.

Other features
Aside from the zipper system, there are other noticeable differences to the gear. One is the military-style weave that allows the user to adjust the pocket locations. There are also longer knee and elbow pads and reinforced shoulders to reduce SCBA compression.

It has accordion-like material at the backs of the shoulders to improve range of motion for the arms. There's also a loop for a remote radio microphone under the collar closure to protect it from heat.

What your not likely to see at first glance is the Kevlar reinforced arm and leg cuffs — and that the shell fabric will not allow any water absorption up to a minimum of 30 washes.

Crouch says they are getting as many as 60 washes before water is making its way into the fabric. This is because the shell was designed to meet European standards for how long the garments must remain water repellent, which is stricter than the U.S. standards.

Crouch says keeping water from penetrating the fabric on the fireground reduces the PPE weight by as much as 10 pounds. And having lighter gear could reduce the incidents of firefighter cardiac arrest, he says.

While pricing is still unavailable, the gear can be ordered with Gore's Parallon liner as an option. That liner replaces the traditional quilt lining and pulls moisture from the firefighter's body as a means to reduce the firefighter's core temperature.

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