Improving Firefighter Safety Round Table Completes First Session

PCIAW® would like to thank all of the 15 members and partners who registered for the event and to those who attended the first meeting of the Improving Firefighter Safety Round Table on 23/05/2024.

The international expertise on the round table, from across the UK, Europe, North America and Australia truly enhanced the knowledge sharing opportunities to understand the trade-offs and priorities for innovation and the operational best practices that will improve firefighter safety.

The focus of this round table was to capture information and discuss new scientific research in a consolidated space, which will lead to the report by PCIAW® that covers the supply chain from fibre to PPE suit and end-user services.

Participants spoke on the evolving role of fire and rescue services globally, as firefighters’ responsibilities have expanded in recent years, to include non-fire technical rescue operations such as road traffic collisions, requiring all-weather gear. In a backdrop of climate change causing more wildland fires, it was said that designing-out hazard factors in communities must be the priority in town planning for prevention – and having PPE as the critical last line of defence.

Procurement of firefighter PPE is a significant responsibility that weighs on the necessary decisions to set requirements for levels of thermal and particulate protection when these choices affect the ability to offer to breathable, lightweight mobility to combat the problem of heat stress. This consideration offered lively discussion, as some manufacturers on the round table believed that there was a higher than necessary focus given to levels of thermal protection, when the industry’s current direction was lighter weight solutions. Concerns were also raised about the certainty of protective performance when considering increased blast and fragment hazard from EV LiB fires.

The round table also discussed the differing standards when it comes to particulate protection, as the current European standards do not require this, whereas the NFPA and Australian standards do. It was said that there are over 1500 toxic chemicals in structural fire smoke which are absorbed into the skin and with every 5° increase in skin temperature, the absorption rate into the skin increased by 400%.

As the World Health Organisation (WHO) formally declared firefighting to be a carcinogenic occupation, it was said to be highly important to protect against particulates; Australia increased the number of cancers in their presumptive legislation from 12 to 22, including gynaecological cancers that impact women.

Textile layers such as moisture barriers and membranes are integral to blocking carcinogenic particulates, whilst base layer hoods, vapour skirts and gussets can improve garment interface to give protection. Improving the fit of firefighter PPE to avoid gaps in protection is highly important, which is why more proportional variations will be required in the future to be inclusive for different shaped and sized people, particularly as more women enter the firefighting workforce.

As firefighters work in PPE that becomes contaminated by carcinogenic particles, the round table discussed the differences between traditional cleaning solutions versus the LCO2 decontamination technologies that are expanding around the world. Contributors spoke of a recent study that suggested that water-based cleaning of the PPE may remove dirt and grease, however, it can spread the carcinogens in the textile rather than decontaminating. LCO2 decontamination was reported to remove more than 90% of carcinogenic particles, whilst the process’ slow rotation reduces impact on the protective clothing, making the PPE last for longer.

The collaborative spirit and productive discussion in the first round table proved this subject to be thought-provoking. It is clearly important to align the direction of innovation between fire and rescue services and industry to improve firefighter safety going forwards and to learn about and educate on operational best practices to mitigate against hazards before the PPE is needed to protect. PCIAW® will be producing a summary of the first round table in due course, which will become a part of the comprehensive guide for the fire and rescue services globally.

The second round table will take place on August 2022.

PCIAW Uniform Networks Buyer, Trusted member