Fire PPE is specified by a number of NFPA codes, including NFPA 1001, NFPA 1500 and NFPA 1971. The type of fire PPE varies based on the situation. One of the major differences is between wildland fire fighting and structural fires. Another factor that makes a difference is the intensity of the fire. For example a proximity suit is typically used for aircraft because of the extreme heat. Fire PPE also includes hazmat suits, which are used when there has been a chemical spill or when exposure to hazardous materials may take place.
We'll be talking about the fire PPE typically used for structural fires. This type of fire PPE usually consists of personal protective equipment (PPE) and personal protective clothing. The PPE is commonly called “turnout gear.”
Turnout gear is the outer fire PPE. At a minimum this includes the helmet, jacket, gloves, trousers and boots. A face shield and SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) may also be included.
The original purpose of turnout gear was to keep firefighters dry and warm. Today's turnout gear protects firefighters in many other ways. The most obvious is protection from the fire, including radiant heat and from unexpected flash-over conditions. Turnout gear also provides protection from sharp objects, punctures and abrasion. Turnout gear must also be designed to take into account conditions those not involved with fire fighting might not consider. For example, the fire PPE might be wet down to provide additional protection from the fire. Without proper design this can result in hot vapors and steam being created inside the PPE, and injury to the firefighter. The design of fire PPE is covered by NFPA 1971.
For example, NFPA 1971, which is called the “Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting” requires that all turnout clothing (trousers and jackets) have three components: an outer shell, a moisture barrier, and a thermal barrier. Pockets of air between each of these layers, provide additional insulation.
The firefighter helmet is designed to provide protection against falling objects, heat and water. It is made from materials that also provide protection from electricity. Helmets frequently include a face shield to give protection against heat, dust, water and debris
Various types of gloves are a part of fire PPE. Leather work gloves or used for most jobs that do not have a close proximity to a fire. Extrication gloves are puncture and rip-proof and are used during rescues. Structural firefighting gloves are used for protection against extreme heat, as well as punctures.
Turnout boots protect the feet. They are rubber or leather, with a Boron Steel toe insert, and a puncture resistant sole plate.
Fire PPE must not only provide protection, it must be light and flexible enough to allow the firefighter to easily move and work. Over the past 40 years tremendous improvements have been made in fire PPE to both better protect firefights and to help them perform their jobs.