Tomorrow's PPE: Changes planned for SCBA, PASS devices and gear

There are several standards under development or revision in the coming months


By Jeffrey O. and Grace G. Stull,
Sponsored by Globe

In the first part of this article, we outlined how standards on personal protective equipment establish minimum levels of performance that are intended to reflect firefighter needs.

Over the next two months, there are several standards under development or revision; these include each of the standards listed below.

NFPA 1851 - Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting

Work is toward a third edition. The most significantly considered topics are the qualifications for service providers on cleaning and repair and how these organizations are qualified, difficulties in implementing the complete liner inspection and the rigor of the hydrostatic test applied to liners after three years, and the mandatory 10-year retirement requirement for all ensemble elements.

The industry is debating how manufacturers can specify companies to provide inspection, cleaning, and repair of their clothing versus the verification of independent service providers that can offer care for any type of clothing.

The adequacy of current procedures for qualifying organizations is being reviewed and being extended from simply addressing repair to cleaning and inspection processes. The committee is considering whether cleaning procedures need to be validated.

There are also concerns for high levels of liner failure during hydrostatic testing noted by some departments that occurs as part of complete liner inspections. Proposals for changing the frequency of this testing or how the testing is conducted are open for consideration.

Lastly, some departments are advocating exceptions to the rule that all clothing and equipment covered by NFPA 1971 be retired 10 years from its manufacturing date.

NFPA 1852 - Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

The standard is considered relatively mature and only a few changes have been proposed. These include events and procedures for reporting failures of SCBA, specifying the number of spare cylinders on hand for a given organization, and providing editorial changes to make some requirements more consistent with NIOSH regulations. (Note – Pat, does this line seem OK to you? I'm also checking with the Stulls - Jamie.)

NFPA 1855 - Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents

This is a new standard that is intended to establish the companion selection, care, and maintenance requirements for products certified to NFPA 1951, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents.

The standard has a number of similarities to NFPA 1851, but has some adaptations to address specific issues related to two principle ensembles covered in the standard – utility technical rescue (without barrier) and rescue & recovery operations (with barrier). NFPA 1951 also addresses requirements for a CBRN ensemble.

As proposed, the standard provides detailed procedures for conducting a risk assessment to support the selection of the appropriate ensemble. It also establishes specific requirement for how ensemble elements (garments, helmets, gloves, and footwear) are inspected, cleaned, decontaminated, repaired, and stored as well as the responsibilities for ensemble care and maintenance for the department and individual responder.

NFPA 1975 – Standard on Work/Station Uniforms for the Emergency Services

The standard address clothing that is worn underneath protective clothing and includes an option for the clothing to be flame resistant. The committee is considering the scope of the standard to address some of items of clothing currently worn underneath protective clothing for moisture management and comfort purposes.

The committee is also examining the potential for including other performance properties in the evaluation of this clothing.

The public input period has passed, but any input for the revision of this standard can still be submitted for the committee's consideration. In addition, the same committee is working on a new contaminated water diving standard and a rope and harness selection, care, and maintenance standard.

NFPA 1981 - Standard on Open-Circuit, Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services

The committee is addressing a number of changes for improving the performance of fire service SCBA. Among these are proposed tests for evaluating the integrity of the facepiece to high heat in response to some reported industry failures.

A new radiant heat resistance test has been put forward for consideration. The committee is also increasing the conditions of the high heat oven exposure prior to the fire exposure in the overall heat and flame test.

A number of other proposed changes have been considered that include new methodology for evaluating SCBA voice communications and changing the alarm level (amount of remaining air) for the end-of-service time indicator.

The standard is also being revised to provide for a range of certifications to address other applications, such as law enforcement, hazardous materials, and other non-fire fighting operations.

NFPA 1982 - Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS) 

 Since its last overhaul in 2007 to address issues related to PASS problems in high heat and moisture conditions, the current revision is focusing on changes that encompass the performance of wireless or radio frequency PASS and their ability to communicate to base stations outside the operating location.

Consequently, a number of new design and performance criteria have been proposed to address various aspects of evolving electronics and their continued functionality for PASS devices. For example, wireless PASS devices are now evaluated for their ability to alarm at a distance that is considered out of range from the base station.

NFPA 1989 - Standard on Breathing Air Quality for Emergency Services Respiratory Protection

This standard covers the quality of breathing air for SCBA and how it is tested. The standard, which has been in existence for two prior editions, is undergoing only relatively minor changes for clarification of the existing procedures.

NFPA 1999 - Standard on Protective Clothing Emergency Medical Operations

The standard was significantly expanded in 2008 to include other categories of clothing and equipment. The majority of current revisions are aimed at improving current test methods or addressing the need for clarification for existing requirements.

A number of items covered by the standards are typically not certified by manufacturers, such as disposal garments, work gloves, and eye and face protection.

We would like to also point out that you can submit input on any standard at any time, whether in revision or not. The submission of specific suggestions or criticisms is always welcome and seen as a valuable part of providing feedback that enable enhancement of the current standards, which in turn help allow the development of better performing clothing and equipment.

We hope that if any of the standards are of interest to you that you take the time to communicate your concerns or needs to the respective committee. The NFPA process is only improved when the actual users of personal protective equipment provide their input.

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