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High Temperature Performance of Fire Fighter Equipment Project

Summary:

The performance of fire fighting equipment and gear is critical for the safety and effectiveness of fire fighters. Current equipment standards and test methods do not adequately address the challenges of operating fire fighter equipment in high temperature environments. This project will provide the scientific research needed in order to characterize the performance of fire fighter equipment at elevated temperatures and develop performance criteria and test methods that are representative of fire fighter equipment performance in realistic fire environments. This project will focus on the performance of three groups of fire fighter equipment:

  1. Self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
  2. Fire fighter electronic equipment including portable radios
  3. Fire fighter protective clothing

The knowledge gained will be transferred to the fire service and to standards organizations to support the development of standards for the performance of fire fighter equipment under high temperature conditions. Improved standards will increase the safety and performance of fire fighter equipment, resulting in improved safety and effectiveness of fire fighters.  


[1] Karter, M.J., Jr., Fire Loss in the United States During 2011, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169-7471, August 2012, www.nfpa.org

[2] Karter, M.J., Jr, and Molis, J.L., Firefighter Injuries in the United States, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169-7471, October 2012, www.nfpa.org

[3] In 2011, fire fighter injuries totaled 70,090 of which 30,505 or 43.5% occurred on the fire ground.

Description:

Objective- To improve the safety and effectiveness of firefighters by developing science-based standard test methods that characterize the performance of firefighting equipment and gear under fire fighting conditions.

What is the new technical idea? This project aims to improve the performance of fire fighter equipment and gear by providing experimental data to develop standards that take into account realistic fire fighting temperature conditions. Previous work has shown that fire fighter gear and equipment may not perform well at the elevated temperatures encountered during firefighting activities. Current test methods and standards do not adequately address the challenges of operating in high temperature environments. This project will include experiments to measure the performance of fire fighter equipment using controlled, repeatable, well characterized test methods in order to develop scientifically based performance criteria and standards.

As technology advances, fire fighting equipment is moving towards incorporating better materials and new tools and devices into the protective equipment. Some SCBA systems incorporate electronic heads-up displays that indicate the status of the gear, while others are working towards incorporating radios and other communication systems into the SCBA. Devices that provide thermal imaging, temperature, heat flux, fire fighter body statistics, location information, and other situational awareness tools are available or in development. The thermal performance of these devices must be understood, and test methods must be developed to measure the performance of the gear in high temperature environments. The test methods should provide a consistent thermal exposure indicative of the fire fighter duty environment, so that various pieces of gear provide appropriate levels of performance and protection. This area of research is a strategic focus of the Fire Research Division's Strategic Roadmap[1].

What is the research plan? This project will focus on the thermal performance of fire fighter equipment in high temperature environments for three groups of fire fighter equipment: (1) self contained breathing apparatus, (2) fire fighter electronic equipment including portable radios, and (3) fire fighter protective clothing. The research plan consists of determining the appropriate metrics for performance evaluation, conducting experiments to determine equipment performance, and developing performance criteria and test methods for use in standards. Previous research suggests that fire environment temperatures and heat flux are key performance parameters. Whereas large scale fire experiments are useful for studying the performance of gear and are especially valuable for capturing three dimensional effects, they are typically unsatisfactory for product acceptance testing. Instead, repeatable and controlled laboratory scale test procedures will be developed to measure the equipment thermal performance. Work with the SCBA equipment will compare high temperature performance of fire fighter SCBA facepieces meeting the new requirements of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1981 Standard on SCBA for Emergency Services, 2013 edition, with legacy SCBA facepieces. The new requirements were developed based on work previously completed as part of this project. Work on fire fighter electronic equipment will focus on high temperature performance of speaker microphone accessories for fire fighter portable radios. Results will be supplied to NFPA for use with the development of the NFPA 1802 Standard on Personal Portable Two way Radio Communications Devices. Research on fire fighter protective clothing will focus on measuring the movement of water vapor through the layers of the protective clothing, as well as looking at the heat transfer through the protecting clothing layers. An extension of a FY14 Exploratory Project on fire fighter protective clothing this work on protective clothing will provide standards recommendations to the NFPA Technical Committee on Structural and Proximity Fire Fighting Protective Clothing and Equipment.  


[4] Report of the 2nd National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium, May 20-22, 2011, National Fire Academy, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, 2011.

[5] Reducing the Risk of Fire in Buildings and Communities: A Strategic Roadmap to Guide and Prioritize Research, NIST SP 1130, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, 2012.

Major Accomplishments:

Impact of Standards and Tools:

  • Alarm sound standards for PASS devices to be incorporated into NFPA 1982 Personal Alert Safety Systems (FY2013)
  • Protective turn-out gear durability standards included in NFPA 1971 Standard for Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (FY2013)
  • Convective oven and radiant panel lens test procedures for SCBAs to be included in the NFPA 1981 Standard for Open-Circuit SCBA for Emergency Services (FY2013)
  • NFPA 1981 Standard for Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus for Emergency Services (2013 edition), FY2013. Research on the high temperature performance of breathing apparatus lens has developed new performance tests which enables the replacement of all existing lens with substantially better performing within the next two years
  • NFPA 1982 Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (2011 edition), FY2012.
  • NFPA 1801 Standard on Thermal Imagers for the Fire Service (2010 edition), FY2009.