Rules and Regulations: Turnout Maintenance Guidelines from the NFPA

NFPA 1851 for the selection, care, and maintenance of structural fire fighting protective clothing went through a large revision and was just adopted this past June (the standard shows a 2008 edition year). The new physical copy of the standard did not become available until August, so many fire departments are still learning about the changes and new requirements covered in this standard. There are a number of significant revisions that were introduced in NFPA 1851 that have far-reaching impact on the fire service. This article highlights several aspects of the new NFPA 1851 and its consequences on the management of firefighter turnout clothing.

Perhaps one of the more noticeable changes is in the title of the document. The standard has now been expanded to include proximity protective clothing and equipment. In fact, it makes several distinctions for the handling of proximity gear that are much different than structural gear. For example, the standard does not allow machine washing or drying of aluminized outer shell materials. It further states that aluminized clothing should not be stored folded. These provisions, while intended to help lengthen the life of proximity clothing, are likely to make care of proximity clothing more difficult than may be current industry practice.

NFPA 1851 does address selection from the standpoint of choosing gear for purchase. Many of the prior requirements for ensuring compliance with existing editions and properly conducting field testes are still covered. However, increased guidance has been provided in the selection of protective ensembles. Departments are now required to conduct a risk assessment and the appendix of the standard offers more detailed information for how this risk assessment may be conducted. Additional detail has also been provided for the conducting of field tests for the evaluation of  prospective protective clothing.

Outside organizations that provide inspection, cleaning, and repair services are now referred to as Independent Service Providers (ISPs) and are subject to certain requirements. A process of verification has been established for advanced repair operations, which can be conducted by not only the ISPs, but by fire departments as well. This verification program is limited to garments and to advanced repairs only. The verification program consists of an outside certification organization, which inspects the repair facilities, conducts testing of facility repair quality, and performs periodic audits of repair facility quality system for ensuring that all repairs are consistently performed. Since these requirements are new, cleaning and repair facilities are just now learning the standard, it may be several months before outside organizations are verified against the new NFPA 1851 requirements.

Conducting inspections
ISPs are also permitted to conduct inspections and cleaning, but the verification in this case is solely by the gear manufacturer. No specific details have been established by NFPA 1851 to qualify the ISPs for inspection and cleaning, so there is likely to be different practices within the industry as to how an inspection or cleaning organization becomes recognized by the manufacturer. These qualifications will further extend to the fire departments themselves if they choose to become involved in advanced inspections and advanced cleaning.

More information is provided on how to conduct gear inspections including inspection criteria for the Drag Rescue Device that is now a required component of all structural and proximity fire fighting protective coats. Other details have been added to the inspection lists to account for different types of damage to each element (garments, helmets, gloves, footwear, and hoods). Advanced inspections can only be performed by department personnel or by ISPs that have been trained by the manufacturer of the clothing. This training is required to be verified in writing by the manufacturer.

New tests have been made mandatory for the inspection of liners during advanced inspections. The "puddle" or water-alcohol mixture cup test is still employed to determine if there areas of leakage in the moisture barrier and a new light test has been  included to evaluate thermal liners.  The light test involves holding the liner up to a bright light and looking for holes or thin spots  in the thermal liner batt. 
After three years, and every year thereafter, all garments must undergo a "complete liner inspection." This inspection requires examining both sides of the liner, including the inner surface of both the thermal and moisture barrier layer. Several manufacturers have designed openings into liners to facilitate this internal inspection. The moisture barrier must further be hydrostatically tested at specific locations to determine if water penetration occurs. This detail in the inspection process will likely be a significant change for the fire service, and will help in identifying problems much earlier than possible with ordinary examinations. More importantly, it will provide a greater level of scrutiny in the maintenance of firefighter protective clothing.

Department personnel
Advanced cleaning can only be performed by department personnel or ISPs that have been trained by the manufacturer of the element. Like advanced inspections, this training is required to be verified in writing by the manufacturer. The minimum frequency of advanced cleaning has been changed from every six months to once a year; however, advanced cleanings are to be performed at the time of advanced inspection, if the garment has not been subjected to advanced cleaning in the previous 12 months. In addition, advanced cleaning is also required to be performed whenever the garments are soiled.

There are also some new provisions that apply to advanced cleaning. For example, cleaning procedures require removal of the DRD and its separate cleaning if it is removable. Machine washing must be performed in machines that do not allow acceleration (g-force) that exceeds 980 meters per second squared (100G's). This may require adjustment of many machines, since often commercial machines are set well above this level.

New restrictions have been placed on the repair of garments. Repairs are divided into between basic and advanced categories. Basic repairs can be performed by any organization as long as the repairs are made in a manner consistent with the manufacture of the garment and in accordance with the details set forth in the standard.. Advanced repairs can only be performed made by the original manufacturer or a verified organization (department) or verified ISP. These repairs extend to repairs of the moisture barrier and thermal barrier, to garment seams and closure systems, and to the more complicated repairs of the outer shell.

One of the most significant changes to NFPA 1851 is the mandatory retirement of any element (garment, helmet, gloves, footwear, hoods, and shrouds) that has a manufacture date that is 10 years earlier, based on the manufacture date stamped on the product label. For proximity fire fighting protective equipment, radiant reflective outer shells must be retired five years after the manufacture date. This requirement does not provide for any exceptions and is regardless of the condition of the clothing. Needless to say, this requirement has caused some consternation with many departments who struggle to maintain inventories of adequately equipped firefighters while dealing with limited resources. Regardless, retirement was identified as a real safety issue and the standard is intended to ensure that all elements remain in a good serviceable condition, consistent with technological changes and safety improvements.

Lastly, NFPA 1851 also includes provisions for care and maintenance of new optional CBRN n protective ensembles.  This includes special inspection considerations and mandatory retirement if any CBRN contamination occurs.

As with the prior edition, NFPA 1851 is a user standard, directed to the fire department. It is a standard that is adopted by fire departments for providing proper selection, care and maintenance of firefighter protective clothing and equipment. to insure firefighter safety. Nevertheless, the standard recognizes that many of the specific details when it comes to inspection, cleaning, and repair should be established by the manufacturer, as each manufacturer’s product can be somewhat different. To this end, the standard allows for manufacturers instructions to take precedence when they differ from details provided in the standard.  Manufacturers are endeavoring to provide a variety of new training tools and guidance to aid fire departments in complying with the revised NFPA 1851.

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