Part I: The Upcoming New Look of Bunker Gear

Read Part II of this column

NFPA 1971 — the standard that governs the specifications for turnout clothing, including coats, pants, helmets, gloves, footwear, and hoods — is being revised for a 2006 edition. Originally slated to be released in February this year, the new edition has been delayed and is now likely to issue in August 2006 and include a number of significant changes. Organizationally, NFPA 1971 has been reformatted, but more importantly it now covers both structural and proximity firefighting protective clothing, combining the former requirements of NFPA 1976 with NFPA 1971 in one standard.

A number of new or revised requirements in the standard will be very obvious for garments.  The most noticeable difference will be that all coats will be outfitted with a drag rescue device (DRD). This feature is an integrated system of webbing, rope, or other material built into the coat to permit the rescue of an incapacitated firefighter. The DRD must be designed so that a portion of the device is accessible from the coat exterior and it can be readily grabbed by other firefighters without interference from the firefighter's SCBA. The DRD must permit a firefighter to be dragged horizontally over a specified distance without breaking. The materials used in the construction of the DRD are also subject to certain breaking strength requirements. The DRD is not permitted to be used for any vertical operations - such as lowering a firefighter from a building - or for self-rescue.

A chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) option will also be available as part of the upcoming standard for both structural and proximity firefighting protective ensembles. This option addresses protection against chemical, biological and radiological particulate agents that could be released during a terrorist incident. This CBRN option includes a series of design, performance, and labeling criteria to be met in addition to the base requirements of the standard.  In order to apply this option, the manufacturer must provide a full ensemble of garments, hood, gloves, footwear and SCBA (the helmet is excluded if it is not integral to CBRN protection).

Moreover, restrictions prevent simply placing covers on top of the ensembles. Instead, the CBRN protection must be built into the clothing system so it is available at any time. The new edition of NFPA 1971 includes a series of new tests and criteria to evaluate the integrity of the entire ensemble — including interface areas — in preventing inward leakage of chemical agents. In addition, there are new tests to assess the effectiveness of barrier materials against chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, and biological toxins. All of these requirements must be met without compromising any of the normal requirements needed for protection during structural firefighting.

A number of changes to the design criteria will be made to permit flexibility of the ensemble design.  While many of these were originally intended to address changes that foster CBRN design innovations, the committee decided to extend these changes to the base ensembles as well.  These changes will take the form of integrated hoods and other new interfaces that provide better protection for structural fire fighting. Coats will now also include a lower collar, where 3 inches is the minimum, compared to 4 inches in the 2000 edition of NFPA 1971.

Some variations will also be permitted in addressing trim. Gaps in trim are now allowed as long as they don't exceed an eighth of an inch and the trim appears to be continuous from a distance of 100 feet. In addition, the bottom of the lower trim band will now be required to be within an inch of the sleeve hem.

There are also likely to be  some material requirements.. For one, the minimum requirement for garment composite breathability will increase. A total heat loss (THL) value of 205 W/m2 will now be required, compared to the existing requirement of 130 W/m2. This change will eliminate some current moisture barriers and heavy weight composites, but will afford a higher uniform level of stress reduction for structural firefighting protective ensembles. The conductive and compressive heat resistance (CCHR) requirements applied to the shoulder and knee reinforcements of garments are being raised. The net effect of this change will be that single outer shell reinforcements for knees and 3-layer composites for shoulders will no longer be acceptable in garment design. More extensive layering will be required for these reinforcement areas. A new ultraviolet light degradation requirement for garment moisture barriers will also change the types of moisture barriers available in the marketplace.  

Helmets must still be supplied with faceshields or goggles, but the goggles are no longer required to be attached to the helmet. This change is afforded to help extend the service life of the goggles. Flame resistance testing of the helmets will now include the application of the flame inside the brim at the goggle attachment points. This testing will provide an assessment of helmet components not previously evaluated. The helmet ear covers must now meet a thermal protective performance (TPP) requirement of 20 or more. Previously, there was no insulation requirement for this part of the helmet. The new insulation requirement is consistent with the minimum TPP requirement for hoods and wristlets and will result in more robust ear covers.

Check back next week for Part II of Jeff Stull's column on the upcoming NFPA 1971 standards and what they mean to you.

Read Part II of this column

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