First responders put their lives at risk on a regular basis to meet whatever challenges arise—which is why specialty textile developers and manufacturers continue to invest R&D resources in finding new and better protective gear for those brave men and women standing in harm’s way.
Globe Manufacturing Co. in Pittsfield, N.H., develops gear for the first responder- and disaster recovery-communities and is one of many manufacturers that collaborates with universities, fiber producers and fire safety institutes to develop new technologies for first responder gear. “As we’re working with all these different entities we’re taking inputs from our customers as to what their needs are, and then trying to determine who does the best work and match it up with the proper research institutions,” says Rob Freese, Globe’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We try to facilitate getting the institutions talking to each other about the technologies they have in their labs and technologies they’re seeing in the marketplace in the various subject areas to really develop on that technology promise to the first response community.”
One such research focus is on carcinogenic particulates and how that affects the human body in a firefighter. “One of the key threats to firefighters is a high cancer rate due to their exposure to dangerous toxins as they fight fires,” says Joey Underwood, senior vice president of Safety Components, an ITG Co., which provides technology-driven fabric solutions for first responders, military, outdoor and other high performance textiles. “The industry is responding to this threat by improving the particulate barriers that can now be included in firefighting hoods and turnout suits.”
Before the products
The report “Cardiovascular and Chemical Exposure Risks in Modern Firefighting,” released in January 2016, was a collaboration between the Illinois Fire Service Institute, the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Globe Manufacturing and U.S. Department of Homeland Security—Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program. According to the study it was “designed to better understand how operating in a modern fire environment is related to the two leading health issues facing firefighters; namely cardiovascular events and chemical exposures related to carcinogenic risk.”
The findings can be used to further advance the development of turnout gear, and a detailed fire service toolkit based on the study’s findings is scheduled to be released this year.
New products that address the carcinogenic concern were released at the Fire Department Instructors Conference International held in Indianapolis, Ind., April 2017. “New particulate hoods were introduced by PGI, INNOTEX, FireDEX, W.L. Gore and others,” Underwood says. “Many of these new hoods contain Nomex® Nano Flex from DuPont™, which is a super lightweight and breathable barrier.”
According to DuPont, the addition of Nomex Nano Flex to a firefighter hood composite structure in the neckline and upper jaw area provides up to four times increase in particle barrier efficiency.
In pursuit of partnerships
Freese encourages the manufacturing supply chain and technology companies to seek out partners to help advance progress. “If partners can use your technology or a version of your technology and link it with other folks’ technology, we can end up with a much better solution than if any of us try to do this alone,” he says.
“The bottom line is we want rescuers going home at the end of the day. They’re already willing to put themselves in harm’s way to save people and heirlooms and properties of individuals they don’t even know. At the very least we should do our utmost to make sure they return to their families at the end of their shift.”
Sigrid Tornquist, a writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn., is a frequent contributor to IFAI publications.