Protection from Chemical, Thermal, and Cardiovascular Risks: Impact of PPE Laundering and Hood Design

PPE Interface Video Highlights Exposure Tests on Mannequins

February 22, 2022

As firefighters become increasingly aware of the health risks related to chemical exposure risks on the fireground, firefighting personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers are rapidly developing new solutions to address these concerns. While it is essential to protect firefighters, current PPE designs may still leave firefighters susceptible to exposure, particularly at PPE element interfaces – those areas around the neck, wrists, waist and lower legs where smoke and chemicals can pass through gaps in protection provided by today’s turnout gear.

In this new video about the PPE Interface Study, Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), NIOSH and UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) examine how PPE protects against smoke and chemical exposures by turning to mannequins for experimentation. The mannequins are outfitted with a cotton base layer to simulate typical station clothing and instrumented with samplers that collect data about chemicals in fireground smoke that make it through the gear and under the base layer. The mannequins are dressed in one of four different types of turnout gear:

  1. Standard turnout gear typical of those in common use in fire departments around the world with a helmet, knit hood, pants, coat, boots and gloves;
  2. Standard turnout gear (based on type #1) with added interface protection at the wrist, ankle and waist along with a particulate blocking hood, similar to most protective designs currently on the market;
  3. Custom turnout gear built on the added interface protection (based on type #2) plus an integrated hood (directly attached to the coat with no interface); and
  4. Custom PPE turnout gear designed as a fully integrated jumpsuit with a hood attached to the liner, no interface between the pants and coat and tighter sealing zipper.

The mannequins are then placed into the Firefighter Exposure Simulator (FES), a prop designed specifically for this type of research, and exposed to standardized smoke conditions that simulate common fireground scenarios.

After the fire is suppressed, the mannequins are removed from the FES, air samplers are removed from outside and under the PPE and base layers, and samples are harvested from the base layer materials to determine what is depositing on the underclothing and what might be absorbed by a firefighters skin under this layer.

“To test the effectiveness of the turnout gear, we’re doing a variety of measurements,” said Kenny Fent, research industrial hygienist at NIOSH. “We’re doing air sampling and we have various samplers on the turnout gear, between the turnout gear and the base layer, and under the base layer. After the fire, samples from the base layers tell us what is depositing on the underclothing that firefighters wear.”

This is study combines the engineering expertise that FSRI has brought to firefighter research for nearly a decade with physiological testing capabilities of IFSI and industrial hygiene knowledge of NIOSH. The data derived from this work will address vulnerabilities in PPE, provide firefighters with better protection and reduce firefighter exposures on the fireground.


PPE Interface Study