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Why it’s crucial that PPE fits properly

Properly fitting pants, coats and boots are essential for firefighter safety and performance

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That gear fits well is fundamental to a firefighter’s ability to perform effectively while helping minimize the risk of accidents and injuries.

MSA Safety

Properly fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) is fundamental to firefighter safety and performance. Ensuring that gear fits well is not merely a matter of comfort but enhances firefighters’ ability to carry out their duties effectively while helping minimize the risk of accidents and injuries. Ill-fitting gear can impede movement, restrict flexibility, decrease work capacity, and compromise overall functionality, posing potential hazards on the fire ground.

PPE is a significant investment, but experience also shows investing in gear that fits properly will pay off in the long run by enhancing firefighter function.


PPE fit is such an important aspect of PPE performance that it is included as part of NFPA 1971 (soon to be consolidated into the new NFPA 1970). Design compliance to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards is an important consideration in the procurement of PPE, a process outlined by NFPA 1851. NFPA 1971 specifies that gear cannot be a simple small, medium, or large but instead should have numerical sizes. Gear should be sized to individuals, ensuring a proper fit.

NFPA 1971 also considers factors such as gear overlap, fit and range of motion to help improve firefighter safety and movement efficiency. NFPA regulations stipulate that gear should have at least a two-inch overlap between the coat and pants and should provide adequate range of motion for the wearer. Tests like crouching, crawling, climbing, etc. while trying on gear are particularly important if gear is being shared by firefighters or passed down within the department.

Departments everywhere battle with allocating budgets for gear replacement and new recruit gear, and for some agencies the temptation to aim at a “one size fits all” approach is very tempting when looking at everything else they need to cover in the budget. But prioritizing individualized sizing over standardized approaches has real operational and morale benefits that enable greater firefighter performance and safety.



Proper PPE fit can pose a challenge for female firefighters, especially regarding sleeve length, waist-to-hip ratio, garment length and boot size and fit.

MSA Safety

Female firefighters encounter specific challenges related to gear fit due to the inherent differences in anatomy compared to their male counterparts. Many traditional gear designs often fail to accommodate these differences adequately, resulting in discomfort and reduced performance. Firefighting is hard enough without the feeling that our PPE is working against us or holding us back with each movement or step. Issues such as sleeve length, waist-to-hip ratio, garment length and even boot size and fit can pose significant challenges for female firefighters.

As the fire service drives toward inclusion of all members who have the abilities necessary to do the job, it is more important than ever to make sure good sizing, fit and gear of proper proportions are made available to all members.


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Gear flexibility and fit may not only minimize the risk of restricted movement but also helps alleviate physiological stress, particularly in high-stress environments.

MSA Safety

Ergonomic design principles play a crucial role in PPE manufacturing, aimed at enhancing performance and helping mitigate the risk of injuries among firefighters. Kinesiology notes that skin around elbows, knees and even our rear ends stretches multiple inches to facilitate our movements. Incorporating flex points in these critical areas and the shoulders facilitates natural movement and reduces strain during firefighting operations.

Fire gear that can move the same way we do, via gussets, elasticized material, or other design elements, allows firefighters to move more comfortably and with less effort. Gear flexibility and fit may not only minimize the risk of restricted movement or trip incidents but also help alleviate physiological stress, particularly in high-stress environments. Additionally, features such as ventilation and breathability help prevent heat-related injuries, a real concern for all of us that have to fight fires in summer weather fully donned in PPE head to toe.


Beyond safety considerations, properly fitting PPE can positively impact firefighter morale and job satisfaction. Gear that fits well boosts confidence, productivity, and overall performance on the fire ground. According to consistency theory applied to the workplace by noted psychologist Abraham Korman, people often perform consistently with their feelings about themselves[1]. This theory supports why people stand up straighter and feel better in a well-tailored suit, and why professional-looking station uniforms are important. Deion Sanders said, “If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you play good.” Firefighters with gear that fits properly feel valued.

By advocating for tailored PPE solutions and raising awareness about the importance of proper gear fit, decision makers aim to build a culture of safety and well-being within their crew. Prudent agencies can continue to work toward getting the most bang for their buck while still providing for the physical needs, safety and even emotional needs and wants of their members.

This firefighter has personally operated in gear that fits properly and gear that does not. Ill-fitting gear is felt every step of the way, with all those steps accumulating to earlier exhaustion, less work capacity, and increased cardiovascular and heat stress. And while PPE is a significant investment to procure and maintain, ultimately prioritizing properly fitting PPE serves as a testament to the department’s commitment to firefighter safety and operational excellence.

PPE is not one size fits all. The optimal path to evaluate PPE specified for your department is conducting a well-documented field trial.

Learn how to set up and conduct a field test including design and parameters, factors for rating turnout gear during field testing, and tips on making a recommendation.

Visit MSA Safety for more information.

[1] Korman, A. K. (1969). Self-esteem as a moderator in vocational choice: Replications and extensions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 53(3, Pt.1), 188–192.