Purchasing the right personal protective equipment for your firefighters is one of the more crucial and complex processes that a chief officer undertakes. However, that purchasing decision can be made more effective and efficient using an objective field evaluation. Here are the key steps to performing fit and field evaluations before you buy your gear.
Field tests can vary, but they should have the same goal: selecting PPE for purchase with a high degree of confidence that firefighters will be satisfied wearing it. Two of the more common field tests include:
- Assigning PPE for evaluation to line firefighters to wear during their normal tours of duty for a designated period.
- Bringing groups of firefighters together in a non-operational environment (e.g., at a fire training facility) and having them engage in a series of firefighting tasks while wearing the PPE being evaluated.
Regardless of the option you choose, have the evaluators complete a list of objective evaluation criteria so you’re looking at the same data from each firefighter.
PPE evaluation criteria
While comfort is important, turnout gear must also interface with other types of PPE (e.g., SCBA) and meet your department’s operational requirements. You’ll greatly improve your ability to make a sound purchasing decision by developing and using objective performance criteria for your field tests.
Those performance objectives should match the performance objectives in the IAFC/IAFF Joint’ Management’s Candidate Physical Abilities Test:
- Climbing stairs with equipment.
- Carrying, dragging and pulling uncharged hose lines.
- Removing equipment from apparatus compartment, carrying it and returning it.
- Raising and extending an extension ladder.
- Forcible entry for a locked door or breaching a wall.
- Search a space in a crawling position.
- Dragging a rescue manikin.
- Breaching a ceiling using pushing and pulling motions.
Develop an evaluation form using your objective criteria for participants to rate. Avoid creating evaluation forms that only ask for narrative responses. Instead, use a positive statement format that has the evaluators rating their level of agreement with the statement using a numerical scale (e.g., strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree).
Avoid using a response scale with a neutral option. You want the participant to make a decision that helps you make a choice. Neutral feedback doesn’t help your cause.
Factors for rating bunker gear during field testing
Use the following positive statements and an agreement scale to rate turnout clothing:
Ask the following written narrative questions:
- The PPE was easy to don and doff.
- The PPE was not bulky or heavy while wearing it.
- The PPE was easy to move in while walking.
- The PPE was easy to move in while duck walking or crawling.
- The PPE properly prevented exposure of body areas while working in a fireground environment.
- The PPE easily interfaced with my helmet, gloves, footwear, hood and SCBA.
- The PPE was comfortable to wear, and I liked the breathability.
- The coat and sleeve interface worked well.
- The pant and footwear interface worked well.
- The PPE does not restrict my ability to reach with my arms in any direction.
- The PPE does not restrict my ability to bend at the legs or waist.
- The coat front closure is easy to operate.
- I like the pocket placement and utility.
- The interface of the extended collar with helmet, hood and SCBA face piece is effective and comfortable.
- The knee reinforcements on the pants are comfortable and protect my knees.
- What features or characteristics of the bunker gear did you like?
- What features or characteristics of the bunker gear did you not like?
Select a cross-section of personnel who are willing to participate, have an elevated level of objectivity, and are in an operational assignment where they’re going to wear the PPE under real-world conditions.
Prepare your evaluators for success with an informative and educational kick-off meeting. Provide the participants with all the field test details to ensure they know what the objective is and how the test will be conducted.
If you’re evaluating PPE from different manufacturers, use the same participants for all evaluations of each manufacturer’s protective ensemble. You’ll get a more consistent set of evaluation data. The next gear in the rotation should not be provided until the evaluation forms are completed for the first gear being evaluated.
Make sure that each evaluation participant is properly fitted with the protective ensemble being evaluated. Poor fit can have an adverse effect on their objectivity.
Recognize your PPE evaluators
If you want better data to use in making your PPE purchasing decision, develop the practice of recognizing your evaluators for their efforts. Firefighters love T-shirts and three-button polo shirts. Post a write-up with photos on your department’s Facebook page; and share it with your local government so they can post as well.