Remote video URL

Firefighters Join IFSI, NIOSH and FSRI for PPE Interface Experiments

July 7, 2022

While personal protection equipment (PPE) designers are constantly developing new gear to mitigate fireground exposures and lower the risk of long-term effects on firefighters, current PPE designs may still leave firefighters susceptible to exposure, particularly at PPE element interfaces. Areas around the neck, wrists, waist, and lower legs are vulnerable to smoke ingress which can pass through gaps in protection provided by today’s turnout gear.

In this video, UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) along with collaborators from the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) describe a project where firefighters traveled to the IFSI training grounds to study different combinations of base layer clothing and turnout gear that may improve contamination protection. For these experiments, participating firefighters were instrumented with physiological status monitors to record heart rate and core temperature, and outfitted one of three variations of PPE:

  1. Base layer of short sleeves and shorts with standard turnout gear
  2. Base layer of long sleeves and pants with standard turnout gear 
  3. Base layer of long sleeves and pants with custom, one-piece turnout gear

After donning the instrumentation and gear, the firefighters conducted firefighting activities in the fireground exposure simulator (FES), a training prop designed to allow researchers to simulate realistic fireground conditions. During the experiments, firefighters performed standardized fire suppression exercises and physical movements unique to firefighting as researchers monitored the participants for differences in body temperatures and heart rates. The data collected will help to assess how PPE design influences firefighter performance under these hazardous conditions. 

“For these experiments we designed a data acquisition (DAQ) system to collect data and capture temperature measurements. It also has the capability to have counter channels, so we can capture the number of reps each firefighter completes when they’re doing hose advancement and overhaul simulations,” said Joe Willi, FSRI research engineer.

Jack Regan, FSRI research engineer, adds “It’s important to capture these activities of the firefighters to compare workloads between different groups. When the biological data comes back, we have a metric to compare the groups.” 

After the experiments, researchers gathered air samples while firefighters worked in the FES environment and visually inspected the firefighters’ all-white base layers. Areas where breakthrough and skin exposure may have occurred were recorded and small fabric samples were cut from the base layers. The fabric samples will be used to characterize risk for contaminants passing through PPE element interfaces, evaluate donning and doffing practices, and identify any areas where fireground contaminants could come in contact with the skin. 

Biological samples collected before and after the experiments will make it possible to characterize how PPE design may influence exposure risk.  Breath samples will be evaluated to determine what is being absorbed and exhaled through the lungs post-exposure.  Urine samples will identify the substances being absorbed, metabolized, and excreted by participants. This data will ultimately come together to clarify the entire exposure pathway during firefighting.

This research is part of FSRI’s PPE Interface Study, which is being conducted in collaboration with the Illinois Fire Service (IFSI), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and builds off of the FSRI-IFSI-NIOSH research conducted during the “Cardiovascular and Chemical Exposure Risks in the Fire Service” project. 

PPE Interface Study