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Know your gear: Moisture management

Staying cool, dry and comfortable in turnout gear is essential for firefighter health and safety


Sponsored by TenCate Protective Fabrics

By Courtney Levin, FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff

No matter what part of the world you live in, there will be times when the weather just doesn’t want to cooperate. Since you can’t send a memo asking for no structure fires on an extremely hot day, or a freezing day for that matter, it’s important to focus on keeping comfortable in ways you can control.

Designed to wick away sweat and help keep wearers comfortable, an effective thermal liner is essential when it comes to firefighter comfort.
Designed to wick away sweat and help keep wearers comfortable, an effective thermal liner is essential when it comes to firefighter comfort. (TenCate Protective Fabrics)

Most, if not all, firegrounds will cause even the fittest firefighter to sweat and get hot, leading to discomfort and eventually impacting their range of motion. Being uncomfortable is distracting and can risk a firefighter’s effectiveness, efficiency and even their level of safety.

To remain cool, dry and comfortable on the fireground, it’s important to select turnout gear that prioritizes moisture management. Designed to wick away sweat and help keep wearers comfortable, an effective thermal liner is essential when it comes to firefighter comfort.

HOW THE THERMAL LINER WORKS

Of the three components that make up turnout gear, the outer shell and moisture barrier only contribute small amounts of overall thermal protection. The thermal liner acts as the most protective thermal layer. It also can serve as the chief ingredient in moisture management by wicking moisture from the skin and spreading sweat across the surface of the material.

“If you took a puddle at a fire station on the apparatus floor and let it sit all day, eventually it’s going to evaporate,” said Jeff Sedivec, a veteran firefighter and mid-channel business development, emergency response at TenCate Protective Fabrics. “But if you take a squeegee and go over there and squeegee it, what you’re doing is spreading it out across the concrete. You’re increasing the surface area so it evaporates more readily.”

If the thermal liner didn’t aid in the fast evaporation of sweat, firefighters would experience that hot and swampy feeling we’ve all endured at least once. Instead, ultra-breathable thermal liners like Titanium Nano from TenCate Protective Fabrics allow firefighters to work better and safer because they’re more comfortable.

THE TECHNOLOGY WITHIN THE LAYERS

The thermal liner isn’t a single piece of material, as it is made of two different components: the facecloth and the spun lace or batting that goes behind the facecloth. When we talk about the moisture-wicking properties of a thermal liner, it’s the facecloth that does most of the heavy lifting.

TenCate Protective Fabrics’ facecloth features specialized fibers with Coolderm technology that help to manage moisture for the life of the turnout garment.

“The good thing about Coolderm technology is that it’s inherent,” said Sedivec. “It’s built into the fibers and yarns themselves, so it never washes away. It’s not a chemical treatment, it’s just in the actual fibers.”

The key to achieving breathability in turnout gear, he continues, is managing moisture from the skin out. The moment a drop of sweat forms on the skin, the facecloth absorbs it and spreads it out rather than leaving it to trickle down your body.

Just as the facecloth fibers feature unique properties, the spun lace within the thermal liner also uses a specific layer called Titanium Nano.

“It provides a micro airspace, so it’s a smaller, thinner layer that’s sandwiched in between,” said Sedivec. “It makes the gear more breathable and more comfortable because of the breathability.”

Titanium Nano is also perceived by firefighters as lighter due to its flexibility. Being able to move your arms and legs without restriction equates to a lighter-feeling garment – one that will help you move faster and more comfortably.

Ultimately, the combination of Coolderm technology and Titanium Nano works to keep firefighters cooler and more comfortable from the moment they don their gear.

“With Titanium Nano, you’re giving firefighters that freedom of movement and increasing the breathability,” said Sedivec. “So now you have a wicking facecloth that’s really facilitating that sweat evaporating within your system and becoming a vapor, and because of that layer it’s going to pass through the moisture barrier a lot faster and out of your system.”

IDENTIFYING DEPARTMENTAL PRIORITIES

For decades, fire departments have been heavily focused on the thermal protective performance of turnout gear and trying to balance this with a garment’s level of total heat loss or breathability. However, as with any type of balance, when one side goes up, the other goes down.

The more thermal protection turnout gear provides, typically the less breathable it is. Conversely, if breathability is a priority above all else, thermal protection may be lacking. Sedivec recommends departments looking to invest in new turnout gear prioritize the two facets as best as possible.

“Ease of movement means better flexibility, and higher breathability means better comfort,” he said. “Departments can control some aspects through firefighting tactics, but what they can’t control is the weather.”

Visit TenCate Protective Fabrics for more information.

Read next: Know your gear: Understanding the layers of protection

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